DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid), is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil. While this is an essential nutrient for all women, those who are pregnant can especially benefit from prenatal vitamins containing DHA.
According to the American Dietetic Association, adults typically get their DHA from dietary sources while newborns depend on breast milk and supplemented formulas. Babies in utero, on the other hand, need to get these essential fats from their mother. All the more reason why a DHA-containing prenatal supplement is so important for mothers-to-be.
The Omega-3 oils found in DHA are known to support several important functions in a developing fetus, including:
- Brain development
- Nervous system development/motor skills
In a study of 98 pregnant women, researchers at the School of Pediatrics and Child Health at the University of Western Australia found that by age two, children whose mothers consumed a high dose of fish oil (including 2.2 g of DHA) during the second half of their pregnancy reported higher scores on hand/eye coordination.
In a Norwegian study, researchers found that four-year-olds scored better on IQ tests if their mothers took DHA supplements during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Many additional studies also suggest that DHA supplementation by the mother improves a child’s motor skills, cognitive skills and attention span.
When it comes to a baby’s eyesight, a study of 167 pregnant women conducted at the University of British Columbia's Department of Pediatrics suggested the mother's DHA levels, especially during the second and third trimesters, improved visual acuity in babies as young as two-months old.
Still another study has linked higher birth weights with DHA consumption. Specifically, the study looked at the mother's DHA levels early in pregnancy, indicating that supplementing with prenatal vitamins containing DHA from the moment of conception could have a positive effect on your baby for the duration of your pregnancy.
It’s important to note that there are no official recommendations as to the amount of DHA pregnant women need, but a recent review of research published by the Journal of Perinatal Medicine stated that a woman who is pregnant or breast feeding would be wise to consume 200mg of DHA on a daily basis.