Should You Take DHA Supplements If You're Breastfeeding?

What Is DHA And How Can You Get Enough?

Should You Take A DHA Supplement If You're Breastfeeding?
Do you need to take an omega-3 supplement or are you getting enough through the foods that you eat?. by sharaff/Moment/Getty Images

What Is DHA?

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid. It is an important nutrient for both children and adults. DHA it necessary for the health of your body systems including your brain and your nervous system. It contributes to mental health, vision, and a healthy heart. DHA is not made by your body, so you need to get this essential nutrient through the foods that you eat.

DHA In Breast Milk

DHA is naturally found in the breast milk of mothers who eat fish, eggs, and red meat.

It is critical for the growth and development of your baby's brain and nervous system, especially since your baby's brain grows very quickly in his first year of life and triples in size by his first birthday. It also plays a significant role in the development of a baby's eyes, and it's believed to raise a child's IQ.

DHA is so important that infant formula companies now add DHA to their products. However, it is not known if the DHA added to formula is as beneficial to babies as the DHA that occurs naturally in breast milk.

Should You Take DHA Supplements If You're Breastfeeding?

Ideally, you should get about 1,500 milligrams of DHA per week, preferably from the foods that you eat. But, we also need to be realistic. In your harried days as a breastfeeding mother, it is understandable that eating a well-balanced diet with proper meals (let alone getting enough calories) is very difficult. So you may need to supplement your diet with additional DHA.

Your prenatal vitamin may already contain DHA, but if it doesn't, talk to your doctor about taking a DHA supplement of 200 to 400 milligrams a day.

How To Get Enough DHA From Food

To ensure that your baby gets enough of this important omega-3 fatty acid, it is essential that you get enough DHA in your diet.

You can get your DHA by eating:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna
  • Red meat
  • Organ meat
  • Eggs 
  • Whole milk cheeses
  • Green vegetables

How To Get Enough DHA If You're A Vegetarian Or A Vegan

If you are breastfeeding on a vegan or strict vegetarian diet, then you can get some of the necessary DHA from foods such as:

  • Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil (1 tablespoon per day)
  • Canola oil
  • Edamame or Soybeans 
  • Walnuts and  Brazil nuts
  • Wheat germ
  • Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds
  • Algae and Seaweed

However, dietary DHA from these non-animal food sources may not be enough. You should talk to your doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin that includes DHA, or taking a separate daily DHA supplement. You may also consider adding some dairy products and eggs to your diet just while you're pregnant and breastfeeding.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Bradbury, J.Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An Ancient Nutrient for the Modern Human Brain. Nutrients, 2011. 3(5), 529–554: http://doi.org/10.3390/nu3050529

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Edited by Donna Murray

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