Omega 3 During Pregnancy: The Best Fish Oil Supplements for Prenatal DHA
Finding out you’re expecting is an exciting and overwhelming time. It often seems like everyone, from your mom to those old high school acquaintances who keep popping up on your Facebook newsfeed, have advice and suggestions for how to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. One of the first topics I found myself discussing was about my prenatal nutrition. Vitamins are all the rage, but, how do you determine which nutrients you need in supplement form, and which you can adequately receive from food? What about toxicity? With so much information coming in all directions, how do you sort out fact from fiction?
The American Pregnancy Association1 suggests expectant mothers focus on the familiar cornerstones of good nutrition by regularly consuming proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Luckily, both body and baby can usually be nourished through a healthy, balanced diet alone. Prenatal supplements that provide 100% of the nutrients you need are not typically necessary, and may even provide too much of certain nutrients (yes, such a thing is possible!).
However, your friends are right in that there are some areas where supplements are not only beneficial, but essential to a healthy pregnancy. The main areas you may need to focus on for additional supplementation include:
Folate or Folic Acid
Folate, more commonly known in its synthetic form as folic acid, is found in a variety of foods, including green vegetables and fortified cereals. Folic acid is probably the most well-known pregnancy vitamin. Consuming a sufficient amount of folate both before and during the early months of pregnancy drastically reduces the risk of certain birth defects in your baby, such as spina bifida. The recommended amount for pregnancy is 400 micrograms a day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or whenever you find out you’re expecting.
An even better plan is to begin taking the supplements before becoming pregnant. It is also worth noting that many consider folic acid in its bioavailable form, shown on vitamin labels as l-methylfolate2, to be superior to folic acid, particularly for women with the MTHFR genetic polymorphism. A quick glance at the vitamin label will tell you if the product is folic acid or l-methylfolate.
Iron is another vitally important nutrient during pregnancy. Iron creates new blood cells for your developing infant. If you already know yourself to be anemic, or aren’t sure of your own blood counts, talk with your doctor about a lab test, as well as about adding an iron supplement to your daily regimen. Other sources of iron include meats, vegetables, eggs, and fish.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Vitamin D and calcium are also both essential nutrients during pregnancy. Speak with your doctor about a blood test to determine your vitamin D levels, as low levels during pregnancy have been associated with high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and miscarriage3. Of course, milk and sunlight can give you somewhat of a dose of these nutrients, but if you have a deficiency, make sure to supplement it during your pregnancy.
Omega 3 During Pregnancy
When it comes to prenatal nutrition, omega-3s have arguably received the most attention since folate for their importance in fetal and newborn neurodevelopment4. No doubt, this is one of the big nutrients you’ve been hounded about by your friends and family, and have read about in pregnancy articles and books. But trust me, there’s a good reason for that...
Omega 3 during pregnancy: Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely essential to the health and development of everyone; from babies to adults, but they are perhaps especially powerful during pregnancy. Dr. Sheila Innis of the Child and Family Research Institute at the University of British Columbia says, “Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the baby’s developing eyes and brain.”5
You may have heard of two of the most important omega-3 fatty acids - DHA and EPA. These two are naturally co-occurring, and together they’ll make sure your future little one has healthy vital organs, as well as strong cognitive abilities, and a tough immune system. These powerhouses also support an appropriate birth weight and pregnancy length, and help support an upbeat mood in mothers. For a variety of reasons, from hormones to stress, we all know depression is not uncommon during and after pregnancy. Omega 3 during pregnancy can help support a healthy mood in mothers as well as provide the essential prenatal DHA that is needed for the growing baby.
This all sounds great, right? Well, there is one problem with omega-3s, and that’s the frustrating fact that we can’t just produce omega-3s on our own; we must either get enough through our diet, or take supplements. Let’s be honest, though: nobody’s perfect, and the kinds of foods where omega-3s are found - predominantly oily fish and walnuts - simply are not apart of most of our diets. Even if you have a taste for fish, you most likely aren’t eating it daily, or in large enough quantities to reap the maximum benefits of these fatty acids, especially during pregnancy.
Studies have even shown that Americans have the lowest intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids of any developed country!6 Yikes.
And even if we were consuming enough omega-3s, us moms are understandably concerned about toxins, such as mercury, in the fish where these nutrients are found. Where’s a soon-to-be mother to begin when taking these supplements?
Omega 3 During Pregnancy Provides Prenatal DHA:
Well, pregnant women should aim for 650mg of omega-3s, with at least 300mg of DHA. You should know that plant-based oils, known as ALAs, don’t supply proper amounts of EPA or DHA. Flaxseed isn’t going to cut it. Algae-derived oils, another form of omega-3 supplementation you may hear about, are also often lacking in EPA. DHA and EPA work best together, just as they occur in nature.
This leads us to the one you’ve likely heard the most about - fish oil.
Is Fish Oil the Best Option for Providing Prenatal DHA?
Fish oil supplements abound in the vitamin aisle of your local pharmacy, as well as online, but many still don’t contain the right amount of omega-3s. Some also carry with them the risk of toxicity from mercury and other toxins, just like fish consumption, especially since most companies don’t reveal their origins. Scary, right?
To top it all off, fish oil capsules typically contain oils from fish like sardines and anchovies. These oils can often have a poor taste and produce what is grossly termed, ‘fish oil burps.’ As important as it is to get omega 3 during pregnancy, most pregnant mommas just can’t stomach that kind of product, especially during those queasy early months.
But despite that, fish oil has been shown to be one of the most effective natural ways to boost your omega 3 during pregnancy...when they’re made well.
The Best Fish Oil Supplements for Pregnancy may not be Fish Oil?
Adding fish oil supplements for omega 3 during pregnancy - which are best?
I’ve researched a lot of different brands, and personally, this is why I’ve chosen to use OmegaXL for all of my pregnancies. In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with polycystic-ovarian syndrome, an endocrine and reproductive condition that affects many women. PCOS makes it hard to get and stay pregnant. Since another benefit of omega-3s is that they may reduce the risk of miscarriage7, I wanted to be positive that I was choosing a trustworthy, effective brand. Three kids later, something must have gone right!
I’ve found that OmegaXL, firstly, is easy to swallow, and doesn’t have that fishy aftertaste that the other brands have, making them perfect for an expectant mother’s sensitive stomach. Most important to me, they’re transparent about where their oil originates. OmegaXL comes from the green lipped mussel of New Zealand, a place with notoriously clean waters, which means I don’t have to worry about toxicity. I couldn’t help but notice the sheer number of clinical studies surrounding OmegaXL. Finally, you know those dosages we’ve been talking about? No worries there when it comes to this brand. OmegaXL has the perfect amount of DHA and EPA. I was relieved to learn that it actually contains up to 22 times more omega-3s than regular fish oil!
The Bottom Line…
Learning you’re going to become a parent is amazing, terrifying, emotional, and thrilling all at once. It’s a whirlwind, and you want to know you’re doing everything right for a healthy pregnancy. A reputable omega-3 supplement, along with proper intake of folate, iron, vitamin D, and calcium, as well as a healthy diet, are key components to you and your baby’s health.
What have you found worked for your healthy pregnancy?
What do you think other expecting parents should know?
Do you have a favorite supplement that helps you get your omega 3 during pregnancy?
Share with us in the comments or on social!
Congratulations, future mommas - and remember to take those omega-3s!
1 Nutrients and Vitamins for Pregnancy
2 Multivitamin Supplementation During Pregnancy: Emphasis on Folic Acid and l-Methylfolate
3 Vitamin D Supplementation in Pregnancy
4 Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation in Pregnancy
5 Typical North American Diet is Deficient in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
6 Omega 3 Fatty Acids: FAQs
7 Miscarriage - Penn State Hershey Medical Center