New Recommendations: 200 mg per day of DHA Omega-3 for Pregnant and Nursing Women

The new Recommendations and Guidelines for Perinatal Medicine published in the February issue of the Journal for Perinatal Medicine advise that pregnant women should aim for a DHA omega-3 intake of at least 200mg a day.  The recommendations were developed by a team of experts at a meeting of the European Expert Committee on LCPUFAs in Perinatology that was supported by a grant from Martek Biosciences. Click here for the full text of the Recommendations and Guidelines for Perinatal Medicine.

The recommendations also advise:

  • DHA and AA should be added to infant formula at the recommended levels of between 0.2% and 0.5% of fatty acids to ensure optimum eye and brain development in babies who are formula-fed.
  • Infant formula should be supplemented with AA in amounts at least equal to the amount of DHA
  • EPA, another omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and fish oil, should be limited to amounts no greater than the amount of DHA
  • Dietary intake of DHA and ARA should continue during the second six months of life, but experts do not have enough information to recommend exact amounts
  • Pregnant women should aim for a DHA intake of at least 200mg a day  

The recommendationswere developed with the support of The World Association of Perinatal Medicine, Child Health Foundation and Early Nutrition Foundation. The expert team included leading experts in child health and perinatal medicine from 11 countries, including UK, the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Switzerland, Denmark, Poland and Chile.

About DHA and AA

Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body. It is a major structural fat in the brain and retina of the eye. It is also a key component of the heart. Studies have shown that DHA omega-3 is important for infant brain, eye and nervous system development and may support long-term heart health. It is important throughout pregnancy, but particularly in the third trimester when significant brain growth occurs.

Arachidonic acid, or AA, is a long-chain omega-6 fatty acid.  It is the principal omega-6 in the brain and is important for proper brain development in infants. It is also a precursor to a group of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids that play a role in immunity, blood clotting and other vital functions in the body.

The main dietary source of DHA is fatty fish. AA is found in foods such as meat, eggs and milk. While most women typically consume enough AA in their diets, those who consume a typical Western diet are at risk for low stores of DHA. This may be because fatty fish is not a staple of the typical Western diet. Additionally, expert bodies have advised pregnant and nursing women to limit their fish consumption due to the potentially high levels of toxins such as mercury.

Babies cannot make DHA and AA themselves, which is why it is vital that they are made available via the mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding or through supplemented infant formula. Infants whose mothers supplement with DHA during pregnancy and nursing or who are fed formula supplemented with DHA and AA have significantly enhanced levels of these nutrients available to them. Major infant brain growth occurs during pregnancy and throughout the first two years of life.  During these times, infants have the greatest need for DHA omega-3 and AA omega-6.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women can ensure their babies get enough DHA by eating a diet rich in DHA. Women can meet the recommended intake of DHA during pregnancy by eating one to two portions of low-mercury fatty fish per week.  A good alternative to fish is to take vegetarian DHA supplements from algae or to eat foods fortified with vegetarian DHA.  Women who are unable or choose not to breastfeed should look for infant formula which includes the recommended levels of DHA and AA.

Trusted, sustainable and vegetarian sources of DHA and AA can be found in life’sDHA™ and life’sAA™ from Martek Biosciences. Martek’s life’sDHA and life’sAA can be found in a range of prenatal supplements, foods and beverages, and infant formulas. More than 30 million infants worldwide have been fed infant formulas containing Martek’s life’sDHA and life’sAA.