Preventing the baby blues is something almost every expecting mother wants to do. Mothers-to-be often spend hours and days making preparations for their little ones, doing everything from prenatal yoga, playing music to their womb, and meal planning. It’s simply impossible to keep track of what is important for a healthy pregnancy. One thing that is well established is that appropriate nutrition greatly improves pregnancy outcomes for both mom and baby. During pregnancy, a woman’s physiology changes dramatically to meet the needs of the growing baby. Nutritional demands, in the form of fat, protein and calories, must be increased to ensure that these physiological changes are met.
If nutritional demands are not met completely, particularly when it comes to fat, both mom and baby may be at risk for very preventable disease states. When it comes to fat, we are not talking about a French fry deficiency, rather an Omega-3 fatty acids deficiency. If taken during the prenatal period, studies have shown that the Omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, may lower the risk of pre-term birth and lower the risk of post-partum depression in new mothers. Additionally, inadequate maternal intake of Omega-3s has also been linked to child-onset Type 1 Diabetes.
Facts about Omega-3 Fatty Acids
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) are considered “essential fatty acids” in that they cannot be synthesized by the body, and therefore must be obtained from the diet. The human body needs to consume fat in all forms, in order to make brain and eye tissue, as well as cell membranes for every living cell in our body. Quality of fat is critical. The type of fat that is ingested by the mother will set the foundation for structural integrity of nerve cells as well as the phospholipid membrane of every other cell in its body.
DHA is important for development of the central nervous system in all mammals. There is an enormous growth spurt in the human brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first postnatal months, with a large increase in the cerebral content of Arachidonic Acid (AA) and DHA. The fetus and the newborn infant depend on a continual maternal supply of DHA and AA.
Studies show that the maternal supply of Omega-3 fats is being preferentially shuttled from the mother’s own supply during pregnancy, primarily from her brain, and is directly transported thought the placenta to the developing fetus. If a pregnant mother is not eating fish on a regular basis then she may not be getting enough Omega 3s and it will leave her feeling depleted. Women who eat enough fish during pregnancy or supplement with a high quality fish oil product are less likely to suffer from post-partum depression.
Several clinical trials have demonstrated that children of women who took fish oil supplementation during pregnancy and while nursing had higher IQs than children whose mothers received a placebo. Additionally, researchers found that women who ate less than 12 ounces of fish or other seafood a week while pregnant were more likely to have children with verbal and other developmental delays than women who ate more than 12 ounces each week.
How Can I get Omega-3s in My Diet and How Much do I Need?
Omega-3s are found in high concentration in deep-sea cold-water fish such as salmon, cod, tuna, and sardines. However, because many fatty fish are also high in mercury and PCBs, it is advised that pregnant women not consume fish on a daily basis, and instead take a high quality fish oil supplement that is high in DHA. The FDA and the EPA limit the amount of fish a pregnant woman can eat to 12 ounces of fish per week.
Currently, the proposed adequate intake of DHA for pregnant and lactating women is 300 mg. per day. Clinically, I recommend 450mg of DHA daily throughout pregnancy and a more balanced blend of EPA and DHA, roughly 625mg of DHA and 410 mg of EPA, during lactation. The energy demands on a mother’s body during the initial period of lactation is greater than during the latter part of pregnancy, especially if she is taking care of other children. EPA and DHA occur together in nature and work synergistically together. An excellent way to meet your need for these essential fatty acids is in Prenatal DHA by Nordic Naturals during pregnancy and Nordic Naturals Arctic Cod liver oil during lactation.
The production of breast milk requires an additional average of 640 calories per day. Optimal milk production requires a total caloric intake of at least 2,000 calories daily. One of the primary energy sources for lactation is from fat storage from the diet. This requires an additional 500 calories from fat a day, just for the formation of healthy breast milk. A reserve needs to be left over for mom so that she can maintain her own levels of Omega-3s for mental clarity and tissue integrity. Fish oil supplementation is rapidly becoming an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet for both mom and baby.
Dr. Keri Marshall is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in holistic pediatrics and women’s medicine. She has published several scientific papers, magazine articles, a book on protein and appears regularly on radio and TV.