During pregnancy and breastfeeding we need more nutrients to support our tiny humans growth and development and keep ourselves happy and healthy. One of the many nutrients we need is Omega 3. Keep reading to find our why.
So you've heard of Omega 3 but but do you know there are three types?
ALA, EPA and DHA are all fats - essential fatty acids that can't be made by our bodies, so we need to get it from our diets. We need them to make brain and eye tissue plus cell membranes for all the cells in our bodies. They play a role in inflammation (reduced), heart health and cognitive function.
Let’s look at the 3 types:
- ALA is found mostly in plants and EPA and DHA are found in seafood, fatty fish and algae. ALA needs to be converted to EPA and DHA before it can be used effectively by your body as a ‘essential fatty acid’. Unfortunately our bodies are not very efficient at converting ALA to EPA/DHA - in fact we convert less than 5%.
- EPA is used by your body to produce signalling molecules that reduce inflammation. EPA’s have also been linked to reducing symptoms of depression.
- DHA is important for structure of your skin and vision. It is essential for brain development and function in infants and brain function in adults.
As a mum or mum to be you need a diet rich in omega 3
DHA is needed for the development of the central nervous system. During the third trimester of pregnancy and the fourth trimester (3 months postpartum), our babies brain goes through a growth spurt, and an increase in DHA needed. This is passed from you to your tiny human. The type of fat you eat sets the foundation for nerve cells and all cell membranes in your babies body - amazing!
In fact your body will prioritise your babies Omega 3 needs above your own and will take DHA from your brain to give to your baby through the placenta and then through breastmilk. One of the main energy sources for breastfeeding and breastmilk comes from fat in the diet, we need 500 calories a day from fat for healthy breastmilk. Omega 3 is a great source of 'healthy fats'. This can leave you depleted of Omega 3, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan
Research tells us that mums who take Omega 3 during pregnancy have a lower risk of pre-term birth and post partum depression. Interestingly, low levels of maternal Omega 3 intake has been linked with child Type 1 Diabetes.
While a good quality fish oil supplement can help you meet your Omega 3 needs, a recent study found that breastmilk concentration of omega 3 was highest in those with a ‘habitual’ intake of Omega 3 in their diet. So regularily including Omega 3 foods into your diet is best. There are great natural sources of DHA and alpha linolenic acid foods you can include in your diet. Just remember if you are vegetarian or vegan you will need to incorporate a large number of foods rich in ALA to get enough EPA and DHA in your diet.
Some of our fave foods are:
cold water and oily fish contain high concentration of EPA and DHA e.g. salmon, mackerel, herring or sardines. Fresh fish is best, as freezing destroy some of the essential fatty acids.
green leaves of plants, including seaweed and algae. Half a cup of raw Brussel sprouts contains about 44mg of ALA. Cooking them boosts the ALA content even more to 135mg per half cup.
seeds and nuts - flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, linseeds and pumpkin seeds. Hemp seeds are high in ALA. 28 grams of hemp seeds provides 6000mg of ALA - wow!
legumes - kidney beans, soy beans
Perilla oil is rich in Omega 3, each tablespoon contains 9000mg of ALA omega 3 fatty acids, amazing!! Use Perilla oil as a dressing, don’t cook it. Cooking polyunsaturated fats can oxidise with heat to form free radicals that can be harmful to your health.
Whether you are a meat eater or a vegetarian, there are some great foods you can incorporate in your diet to support yourself and your bubs Omega 3 needs. At HQ we love to support the nutrients needs of mums, find out how we can help you.
Burdge GC, Calder PC. Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human adults. Reprod Nutr Dev. 2005;45(5):581-97.
Domenichiello AF, Kitson AP, Bazinet RP. Is docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from α-linolenic acid sufficient to supply the adult brain?. Prog Lipid Res. 2015;59:54-66.
Guesnet P, Alessandri JM. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the developing central nervous system (CNS) - Implications for dietary recommendations. Biochimie. 2011;93(1):7-12.
Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Ausdal WV. Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008;1(4):162–169.
Bzikowska-jura A, Czerwonogrodzka-senczyna A, Jasińska-melon E, et al. The Concentration of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Human Milk Is Related to Their Habitual but Not Current Intake. Nutrients. 2019;11(7)