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DHA in Pregnancy: The Benefits for You and Your Baby

What’s the deal with DHA during pregnancy?  First, let’s talk: what is DHA and why is it so important? DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to play an important role in your baby’s brain and eye development during pregnancy. Some studies suggest that it may also decrease the risk of preterm birth and perinatal depression if taken in higher doses. The takeaway here is that DHA supplementation during pregnancy is important for you and your baby.  

DHA in Pregnancy: The Benefits for You and Your Baby

Written by: Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN

What’s the deal with DHA during pregnancy?  First, let’s talk: what is DHA and why is it so important? DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to play an important role in your baby’s brain and eye development during pregnancy. Some studies suggest that it may also decrease the risk of preterm birth and perinatal depression if taken in higher doses. The takeaway here is that DHA supplementation during pregnancy is important for you and your baby.  

We can get potent levels of DHA from two sources: fish and other seafood as well as algae (which is where fish get their DHA from). Eating fish during pregnancy is great for this reason, but you want to be mindful of overconsumption since exposure to too much mercury in the fish you eat can lead to brain, vision and hearing problems your baby. With this in mind, it’s best to limit fish consumption during pregnancy to two to three servings per week, which is about 8 to 12 ounces per week of low-mercury fish (see below). This should get you about 300mg of DHA per day. 

Low-Mercury Fish to Incorporate

  • Anchovy
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Loster (American & spiny)
  • Pollock
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Sardine 
  • Scallop 
  • Sole
  • Tilapia
  • Tuna* (chunk-light or skipjack) 
    • Bigeye tuna and albacore/white tuna, whether it is canned, fresh, or frozen, contains higher amounts of mercury and should be avoided. Opt for chunk-light or skipjack tuna since it has lower amounts of mercury.
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

High-Mercury Fish to Avoid

  • Albacore and bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel 
  • Marlin 
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish 
  • Tilefish

Even if you eat the recommended amount of low-mercury fish per week, a DHA supplement is still a great idea given the critical role DHA plays in your baby’s growth and development. On the lower end, you can supplement with 200-600 mg of DHA per day, and on the higher end, you can safely supplement with 1000mg up to 3g per day.

Before adding in a DHA supplement, evaluate how much fish you are consuming, check to see if your prenatal already has DHA, and of course, talk to your doctor. Our favorite brand for supplemental DHA is Nordic Naturals. They have a fish-based DHA supplement and a plant-based algae DHA supplement.   

For more info on prenatal vitamins, check out our article, Prenatal Vitamins Explained, and for more info on the mercury levels in fish, check out this chart from the FDA & EPA.

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