Omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and breastfeeding
The final trimester of pregnancy is a period of the most rapid brain development. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids play an important role in the pregnant woman’s and infant’s diet. During the final trimester, pregnant women should avoid consuming long-living fish (predators), as they contain high concentrations of mercury (methylmercury), which is a natural part of their environment. Smaller oily fish (sardines) are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Inside the body, it is broken down into docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acids. DHA make up more than 50% of brain matter and around 65% of the eye retina. They play an especially prominent part in complex processes of brain development. In addition to food rich in DHA (olive oil, almonds, linseed and hempseed oil), consumption of additional amounts of omega-3 (in the form of capsules or oil) is recommended during the final trimester (when the rate of brain development is highest) and while breastfeeding. Recent studies show that consuming omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy significantly reduces the frequency of premature birth.
Human milk contains about 30 times more DHA than the milk of other mammals. These acids are so important that they are added to all infant milk formulae. By consuming omega-3 fatty acids, the mother can increase DHA concentration in her milk and replenish her own supplies which are significantly reduced after birth. Namely, during the final trimester, the placenta actively draws from the mother’s DHA supplies to ensure sufficient amounts for the growth and development of the brain which undergoes the most rapid development in this period. After birth, the mother will need about six months to compensate for the lack of DHA. Postpartum feelings of exhaustion and depression may partly be caused by DHA deficiency. Sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids is therefore recommended in this period as well.