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Relevance and benefits of DHA (omega-3) during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Author: Anna Paré Vidal

The importance of omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, necessary for the development and proper functioning of the human body. DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid ) is a crucial omega-3 for the structure of the brain, the nervous system, and the transduction of visual signals.

During gestation and lactation, the contribution of DHA in the mother's diet is essential for the development of the fetus.

The brain and retina accumulate large amounts of DHA. This process begins at the time of conception and continues after birth until the age of 2 (Carlson, 2013; Middleton, 2018). Indeed, DHA intake during pregnancy is associated with a more extended gestation period, higher birth weight, larger head circumference, lower risk of preterm delivery, and lower risk of hypertension (preeclampsia) and postpartum depression (WHO, 2011).

During the first months of a baby's life, DHA is thus an essential structural component of nerve tissue and retina. DHA contributes to the normal brain function and contributes to the maintenance of normal vision (EFSA, 2009).


DHA primary sources are fish (sardines, anchovies, and mackerel), seaweed, fortified foods, or food supplements. Experts recommend an additional DHA intake of 200 mg/day during pregnancy and lactation (EFSA, 2017).

DHA from fish or fish oil may contain environmental contaminants such as mercury, methylmercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These pollutants can pass from mother to baby during pregnancy and can also pass into breast milk. Of all these substances, methylmercury is the most worrisome because it is particularly toxic to the brain and baby's growth (Campoy, 2010; WHO, 2017).

Hence, DHA supplements extracted from algae oil are an excellent alternative to fish oil because they do not contain contaminants. They are particularly recommended for pregnant or lactating women, or for people who rarely eat fish or follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.


Campoy C., et al. Actualización, recomendaciones y consenso sobre el papel de los ácidos grasos poliinsaturados de cadena larga en la gestación, lactancia y primer año de vida. Med Clin (Barc). 2010;135(2):75–82.
Carlson SE, Colombo J, Gajewski BJ, Gustafson KM, Mundy D, Yeast J, Georgieff MK, Markley LA, Kerling EH, Shaddy DJ. DHA supplementation and pregnancy outcomes.Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):808-15.
Garcia Gabarra A. et al. Ácido docosahexaenoico. ¿Un ácido graso omega-3 esencial? Acta Pediatr Esp. 2016; 74(3-4): 101-106. EFSA (European Food Safety Authority ) 2017. Dietary Reference Values for nutrients Summary report. OMS 2011: Administración de suplementos de aceites marinos para mejorar los resultados del embarazo. Consultado el 25.06.2019. Disponible en: OMS 2017: El mercurio y la salud. Consultado el 25.06.2019. Disponible en: Middleton P, Gomersall JC, Gould JF, Shepherd E, Olsen SF, Makrides M. Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Nov 15;11:CD003402.