What is DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and Why Does it Matter During Pregnancy? 

August 22, 2023

What is DHA?

Docosahexaenoic acid, otherwise known as DHA, is one of many omega-3 fatty acids. You have probably heard about DHA being good for your growing baby. Unfortunately, many adults in the United States do not get enough DHA, which means your baby may be at risk for improper growth.

Why is DHA During Pregnancy Important?

DHA, as well as other omega-3 fatty acids, form the structures of your baby’s cells. The brain and retina contain a high level of DHA. DHA will build up in your baby’s brain and starts doing so in your 3rd trimester. The accumulating DHA continues to do so for the next two years after your baby is born.

Getting enough DHA in your diet is important. Research suggests if you aren’t consuming enough DHA through prenatal vitamins and food, your baby may be at risk for poor cognition, inflammatory diseases and disorders and behavior issues. It has also been shown that DHA reduces your risk of pre-term labor and having a baby born with low birth weight.

DHA Nutrition: Breast milk vs. Formula

If you breastfeed, your baby will get DHA through breast milk. Some research has suggested that breastfed infants consume higher levels of DHA than formula-fed infants. However, it was also determined that formula-fed babies fed with DHA-enriched formula showed improved cognitive development.

How Much DHA Do You Need During Pregnancy?

When you’re pregnant, you need 1.4 grams of DHA per day. You can consume DHA from fish and seafood, such as salmon, shrimp, tilapia, cod and scallops, as well as prenatal vitamins.

Additional Nutrients to be Aware of

1. Choline

Choline is another important nutrient that works hand in hand with DHA to develop your baby’s brain and retina. It’s been shown that supplementing choline with DHA will help it enter the retinal cells. Some research suggests that eyesight worsens if there isn’t enough choline intake during pregnancy.

Choline may also prevent your baby from getting neural tube defects. Consuming choline during pregnancy has also been shown to improve memory in young children.

Just like DHA, many adults in the United States don’t get enough choline. Your body won’t make enough, so it’s important to eat choline-rich foods so your baby can get enough choline from you.

While pregnant, your choline needs increase to 450 milligrams per day. You can get choline from meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy.

2. Folic Acid

Folic acid, also known as folate, is another important nutrient to ensure your baby’s brain is developing properly. If you are of childbearing age, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid before you get pregnant to prevent the risk of spinal and neural tube defects, as these will occur in the first trimester.

Before you’re pregnant, you need 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, and when you become pregnant, you need 600 micrograms each day. You can get adequate folic acid through vitamins and food such as fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, eggs, breads, pasta, fruit and fruit juice.

Are You at Risk of DHA Deficiency?

For your baby to get enough DHA, it relies on you to consume it as it can’t make DHA as well. A recent study has shown that women who followed the recommendations of eating fish twice a week had significantly higher DHA intake than those who didn’t follow the recommendations. Pregnant women can eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood a week, while avoiding high-mercury seafood like king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish.

How Genate Can Support Your DHA Nutrition & Fetal Development 

One way to determine if you are deficient in DHA is to get a Genate Test report. This report will help you determine additional supplementation you need for your growing baby. Nutrition counseling is another great way to determine if you may need to consume more DHA. SNP Therapeutics offers both the Genate Test and Nutrition Counseling to help you in your journey to becoming parents.

Boilerplate information:

SNP Therapeutics' mission is to improve human health through precision nutrition. They aim to utilize genetic testing to identify health issues and diseases that may be prevented or treated with proper nutritional therapies.

  1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2022). Omega-3 Fatty Acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
  2. Lauritzen, L., Brambilla, P., Mazzocchi, A., Harslof, L.B., Ciappolino, V. & Agostoni, C (2016). DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728620/.
  3. Maternal docosahexaenoic acid status during pregnancy and its impact on infant neurodevelopment (2020).Nutrients. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12123615
  4. Dietary intake of DHA during pregnancy: a significant gap between the actual intake and current nutritional recommendations (2018). National Institute of Public Health. https://doi.org/10.32394/rpzh.2018.0044
  5. Choline and DHA in maternal and infant nutrition: synergistic implications in brain and eye health (2019). Nutrients. doi: 10.3390/nu11051125

More Articles:

DHA During Pregnancy - A Prenatal Guide | Genate
The Importance of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) During Pregnancy September 1st, 2023 Proper nutrition during pregnancy is vital for the well-being...
Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) - Prenatal Guide | Genate
What are Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) & Why Do They Matter?  August 23rd, 2023 It's very possible you’ve never heard...
DHA During Pregnancy - Docosahexaenoic Acid Overview
What is DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and Why Does it Matter During Pregnancy?  August 22, 2023 What is DHA? Docosahexaenoic acid,...

Take the Genate Test

Learn how to tailor your pregnancy nutrition to your unique genetic signature.