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There is an abundance of research showing the critical role that DHA plays during pregnancy and early childhood development. But many people are still not clear on what DHA is and how it works to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
For vegans, the subject also raises questions about how to find good sources for this essential nutrient. There is a lot to understand about DHA and vegan DHA in pregnancy, including vegan DHA supplements.
What are the advantages of DHA?
DHA plays a big role in early brain growth and development:
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Promotes the formation of new brain cells
- Contributes to the growth of brain cells
- Needed for the connections between brain cells
- Helps release serotonin for memory, sleep, mood, and behavior
Brain Health Benefits
DHA comprises over 90% of the omega-3 fatty acids in your brain and up to 25% of its total fat content (1). It regulates neurogenesis (the formation of new brain cells called neurons), neurotrophic factor (regulates the growth of neurons), and synaptogenesis (the formation of connections between neurons) (2-4).
It is vital for your baby’s neurodevelopment and for boosting mom’s mood. Plus, it is also required for the maintenance of normal brain function in adults.
When is DHA most important?
DHA is most important when trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and post-pregnancy. Essentially, if you are a woman of childbearing age and plan to have a family, this is an important time to pay extra attention to your diet and key nutrients in prenatal vitamins, as well as any other supplements you might need.
Why is DHA important during pregnancy?
DHA, an omega-3 essential fatty acid, is vital for the neurodevelopment of your baby’s brain, spinal cord, and eyes. DHA helps boost your mood, sleep, and memory to support a healthy pregnancy.
Can I get DHA from my vegan diet?
Yes, you can. Despite the fact that many of the DHA food sources often listed are fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, there are other sources available. Omega-3s don’t only come from fish oil. Algae is an ideal, sustainably-sourced vegan alternative that provides all of the vital DHA needed for your baby’s neurodevelopment.
Other plant sources of omega 3 include flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts. These seed and nut plant-based sources contain omega-3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which must be converted. Your body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, however, it is not a simple or efficient metabolic process. The conversion rate is low, meaning you would have to eat these foods in extremely large quantities. That’s why more direct sources, such as algae, are important to include.
Vegan DHA Supplements
When looking for the best vegan prenatal DHA, seek out plant-based dietary sources and also look for sustainably sourced vegan supplements. No Fish, No FishTM Vegan Prenatal DHA is an omega-3 supplement made from sustainable algae instead of fish oil.
Prenatal vitamins with DHA
Most prenatal vitamins that include DHA don't come from the best source. They use synthetic ethyl esters because they can be compressed. Plus, they also don't use optimal amounts. The reason that we do not combine DHA with our multivitamins is that the minimum amount of DHA recommended by the March of Dimes is 200mg and this cannot be squeezed into a multi.
To provide expectant moms with the right amount and type of DHA, we needed to make a separate, easy-to-swallow, soft-gel capsule. Like our prenatal vitamins, our DHAs are purified, natural, and made from the highest quality ingredients available.
If you are seeking the best vegan prenatal vitamins, you can pair your DHA supplement with a vegan multivitamin like Mama BirdⓇ Prenatal Multi+. You can also include pregnancy probiotics such as vegan Mama Bird® Probiotics which are crafted for pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum mothers to provide gut and brain support for you and your baby.
What happens when you are low in DHA?
DHA is rapidly accumulated in the brain during gestation and early infancy, and the availability of DHA via transfer from maternal stores impacts the degree of DHA incorporation into neural tissues. DHA consumption leads to many positive physiological and behavioral effects, including those on cognition. However, since the modern diet typically lacks appreciable amounts of DHA, maintaining optimal levels of DHA in the brain throughout the lifespan likely requires obtaining preformed DHA via dietary or supplemental sources (5).
How much DHA do I need each day?
To optimize pregnancy outcomes and fetal health, consensus guidelines have recommended that pregnant women consume at least 200 mg of DHA per day (6). Because DHA is important for fetal brain, spinal cord, and eye development, it's vital that you get enough of the nutrient throughout pregnancy and while you're breastfeeding. This is why a vegan DHA for pregnancy can contain much more than the baseline recommendation of 200 mg per day. Studies have shown that doses up to 1000 mg DHA daily to be safe during pregnancy (7).
Can I have too much DHA?
Up to 1000 mg DHA daily has been deemed safe.
There are many good sources of DHA for vegans, including vegan DHA supplements. DHA has been shown, via an abundance of research, to play a critical role during pregnancy and early childhood development. It’s important to include DHA in your diet to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.