Getting the proper nutrients in the right dosage is a concern for many moms-to-be. If you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, you may want to check if it contains DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid.
This essential fat-building block is involved in fetal growth and development.
It’s not only helpful for baby, but mama too:
Although DHA is present in some foods such as fatty fish, many people may not get adequate levels, especially during pregnancy. That’s why doctors often recommend a DHA supplement before, during, and after pregnancy.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays a critical role in every cell in your body. More specifically, your brain, skin, and eyes rely on adequate DHA levels for optimal health.
Your body cannot make DHA in significant amounts, so dietary sources or supplemental DHA is often recommended during pregnancy.
Dara Godfrey, MS, RD, registered dietician for Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, says DHA during pregnancy helps support the following in a growing baby:
- brain development
- eye development
- nervous system development
Godfrey says getting adequate DHA can also help:
- prevent preterm labor
- ensure a healthy birth weight
- support a mother’s mood during the postpartum period
According to Sherry Ross, MD, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, are thought to provide the majority of the health benefits.
“But DHA is the most prevalent fat in our brain and may influence the development of cognitive abilities including the attention span in infants,” Ross explains.
“The fetal brain begins to develop in the first trimester around 5 weeks, but it’s an ongoing process throughout pregnancy,” Ross says.
More specifically, Ross says all of the following details of brain development benefit from DHA each trimester until delivery:
- cerebrum: responsible for thinking, remembering, and feeling
- cerebellum: responsible for motor control
- brain stem: responsible for keeping the body alive
Since the brain contains a high fat content and has many nerve connections, Ross says DHA helps support these ongoing processes during pregnancy.
“As a baby’s brain growth is at its peak during the third trimester, it is especially important to consume dietary sources of DHA, take a prenatal vitamin with DHA, and even possibly take some extra DHA if you are not consuming enough dietary DHA,” Godfrey says.
Pregnant people should take at least 200 milligrams (mg) of DHA before, during, and after pregnancy. Ross says most prescription prenatal vitamins contain the recommended dose of 200 mg of DHA.
If you don’t take a DHA supplement or consume food with DHA, you might be wondering if a deficiency can harm your growing baby.
Although the research is limited, it’s suggested that an inadequate DHA in gestation may compromise fetal development, but not as much is known about the long-term consequences.
DHA supplements are an excellent addition to your prenatal routine. But you can also meet your recommended intake by including dietary sources of DHA.
Seafood and fatty fish sources:
- rainbow trout
- sea bass
Additionally, tuna, scallops, and cod also have DHA, but in very low amounts. Other dietary sources of DHA, but in lower amounts than fatty fish, include eggs and chicken.
Consuming fish with high mercury levels such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish is not recommended during pregnancy. White albacore tuna should be limited to 6 ounces a week.
To meet the recommended intake of DHA and EPA and reduce exposure to methyl mercury, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends consuming 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from varieties such as salmon, herring, sardines, and trout.
You can also find DHA in fortified foods such as dairy and omega-3-enriched eggs, which may contain small amounts of DHA.
Many experts now recommend adding a DHA supplement to your daily routine, especially if you’re not getting adequate levels in your diet.
According to Ross, the best prenatal vitamins contain at least 200 mg of DHA, and ideally, you want to start taking prenatal vitamins with DHA at least 3 months before getting pregnant, so you get the health benefits as soon as your pregnancy test turns positive.
Ross also recommends talking with your doctor since they may have a particular supplement they want you to take.
According to Liz Weinandy, RDN, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, most prescription prenatal supplements now have DHA in them, so that is a good route to go if you’re is looking for a one a day that has everything she needs as a supplement.
“Otherwise, looking for a brand that is NSF or US Pharmacopeia certified is a good idea as these organizations test to supplements independently to ensure the product is up to standards,” she says.
How we chose our recommendations
We curated this list of DHA supplements based on input from OB-GYNs and registered dieticians. The products included are also affordable, and except for one, are available over the counter.
Keep in mind, if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin with DHA, an additional DHA-only supplement may not be necessary. Consult your healthcare provider for more information on what’s right for you.
Here some prenatal vitamins and supplements to consider when pregnant.
Ritual Essential Prenatal
Ritual vitamins’ prenatal formula includes 350 mg of DHA per dose. Additionally, this supplement includes choline, folate, and 9 other essential nutrients for pregnant women.
Plus, you can’t beat the convenience factor. Sign up for a subscription, and Ritual will deliver your vitamins right to your front door.
Zahler Mighty Mini Prenatal + DHA
The Zahler Prenatal + DHA is one of Godfrey’s top picks. It has 300 mg of DHA, so it is a nice supplement to add if you are already getting dietary omega-3. “The pill is a soft gel and therefore easy to swallow and also has a nice amount of D3 to help with immune system and bone support,” she says.
If you are not getting any dietary omega-3 from food such as fatty fish like salmon, trout, or sardines, Godfrey recommends an additional DHA supplement.
Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA
For a DHA-only supplement, Godfrey likes Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA. “It has 480 mg DHA and a total of 830 mg of omega-3s, plus, it has a subtle strawberry flavor without the fishy taste,” she says.
Nordic Naturals Algae Omega
If you are vegan, Godfrey recommends Nordic Naturals Algae Omega. This algae-based supplement has 715 mg of total omega-3s, which includes 390 mg of DHA from algal oil.
One A Day Prenatal Advanced
Another one of Ross’s top picks for patients is One A Day Prenatal Advanced. This formula contains 200 mg DHA along with 110 mg choline and 800mcg of folic acid.
Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA
The Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA includes 200 mg of DHA, folic acid, B vitamins, and more. This formula is easy to find on the shelves of most major retailers, or online.
Including a DHA supplement in your daily routine is both safe and helpful during pregnancy. At a minimum, aim for a prenatal vitamin or supplement that has 200 mg of DHA. You can also get DHA through dietary consumption of fatty fish and DHA-fortified foods.
Before you take any supplement during pregnancy, make sure to talk with your doctor. They can help determine if the product is safe. After all, keeping yourself healthy as your baby grows is most important of all.