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What is DHA and why is it important during pregnancy?

Written by: Biostime Nutrition

From nervous system and mood support to supporting the growth and development of your baby, DHA’s play a key role in helping you maintain a healthy pregnancy1.

Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA for short, is an omega-3 fatty acid. This essential fatty acid is an integral component in all cell membranes throughout the body, but it plays a particularly important role in maintaining the optimal health of your brain, eyes and skin1.

When it comes to pregnancy, DHA plays an essential part in foetal development from conception all the way through to birth. So, whether you’re pregnant or planning your pregnancy, we’re here to give you a rundown on everything you need to know about DHA.

DHA for pregnancy

DHA omega-3 is a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). Along with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), DHA is one of the three main omega-3 fatty acids.

DHA plays an essential role in the health of both the mum and the developing bub throughout pregnancy. Here’s a breakdown of the importance of DHA in pregnancy across the different trimesters.

First trimester

During the first trimester, the baby’s brain starts to develop around the 5-week mark. DHA plays a key role in the early development of the baby's brain and nervous system. This essential fat-building block contributes to the formation of neuronal cells and the growth of the brain2.

Second trimester

As the pregnancy progresses, the baby’s eyes and brain continue to develop, especially around the halfway point in the pregnancy. DHA is crucial for the growth and maturation of the baby's brain and retinas3.

Third trimester

As the baby’s brain growth peaks in the third trimester, DHA becomes even more important. DHA continues to support brain development and function. It’s essential for the development of cognitive abilities therefore, DHA deficiencies may have a long-lasting impact on the child's cognitive health4.

Besides the importance of DHA for the growth and development of the baby, it also provides benefits for the mother. Research suggests that DHA may help reduce the risk of pre-term birth in the third trimester5. It may also have positive effects on the mother's mood and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy6.

DHA benefits 

During pregnancy, DHA offers a range of benefits both for the mother and the baby. Beyond supporting the baby’s brain and eye development, here are just some of the reasons why it’s important to get the right amount of DHA over the course of your pregnancy, namely DHA:

  • Supports a healthy birth weight: DHA is involved in the development of various foetal tissues. With this in mind, it’s thought that DHA may play a role in promoting overall foetal growth, leading to a higher birth weight7.
  • Helps to support a full-term pregnancy: it’s believed that omega-3 fatty acids may have a biological effect on pregnancy duration and the prevention of early preterm births8.
  • Boosts maternal mood and emotional wellbeing: there’s evidence to suggest that DHA supplementation may help to prevent postnatal depression by way of its neurotrophic processes in the brain9.
  • Reduces the risk of allergies in infants: research suggests that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy may have an anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effect on the baby, which may help to reduce the risk of food allergies and conditions like eczema among high-risk children10.

How much DHA for pregnancy? 

During pregnancy the demand for omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, increases. Accordingly, it’s important to up your dietary intake to support these additional needs. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends pregnant women consume around 110-115 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day and roughly 140-145 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day while breastfeeding11.

We strongly advise to always discuss your dietary and supplement regime with your Primary Healthcare Provider. This is especially important during times of pe-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding as they can provide specific advice for your individual needs.

Do I need to take DHA in the first trimester?

DHA plays an important role throughout the whole pregnancy, so it’s well worth increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids from the first trimester and even while you’re trying to fall pregnant. With that said, the demand for DHA tends to increase in the second half of the pregnancy as the baby’s brain and eye development accelerates, so it’s especially important to make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids from the second trimester onwards12.

What is a good source of DHA for pregnancy? 

It’s possible to consume an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids and DHA through diet alone. Usually, one to three servings of fish a week is enough to meet your dietary requirements during pregnancy13.

Certain seafood and fatty fish are good natural sources of omega-3s, including:

  • Salmon 
  • Trout 
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Sea bass
  • Prawns
  • Oysters
  • Lobster.

While larger fish like mackerel, swordfish, tuna and shark are also natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids, they may also have higher mercury content, so it’s better to steer clear of these varieties during pregnancy.

If you’re not able to get enough omega-3s through your diet, the addition of a DHA supplement to your daily routine is a simple way to hit your recommended intake. Again, it is important to always discuss your dietary and supplement regime with your Primary Healthcare Provider first, as they will be able to provide tailored advice that caters to your individual needs.

For more information on how to prepare for pregnancy or the stages of the pregnancy journey in general, check out our parent lounge.




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  9. Zhang MM, Zou Y, Li SM, Wang L, Sun YH, Shi L, et al. The efficacy and safety of omega-3 fatty acids on depressive symptoms in perinatal women: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Translational Psychiatry. 2020 Jun 17;10(1).
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Biostime Nutrition - Author