Omega-3 is a critical nutrient before, during, and after pregnancy. When you hear about Omega-3 for this stage of life, the emphasis is often on the benefits for baby’s brain and eye development. What’s less commonly understood are the benefits of Omega-3 for a mama herself.
Up to 95% of women of childbearing age are failing to meet their needs for this fundamental nutrient, despite very clear, clinically-proven benefits for before, during and after pregnancy. Omega-3 simply hasn’t gotten the top pre- and postnatal nutritional billing it deserves.
Feeling empowered after reading this article? Help us spread the word about the importance of Omega-3 to your fellow mamas and health practitioners.
Let’s start with the basics--what is Omega-3, what role does it play in the body, and where does it come from?
The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (“Omega-3”). These are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food.There are 3 main types of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): ALA is the most common type of Omega-3 in the Western diet, found primarily in nuts like walnuts, and seeds like chia and flax. ALA is a precursor to the two more usable forms of Omega-3, DHA and EPA.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): DHA is critical for cell membrane structure, and cell signaling. DHA is the Omega-3 responsible for brain and eye development and function, and the health of your ovarian reserves, as well as your hair, skin, and nails.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA produces signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which play numerous physiological roles. The benefits of EPA include mood and hormone balance, and reducing overall inflammation in the body. Studies have also found that EPA helps to transfer DHA across the placenta, and that decreased EPA levels may limit the transport and uptake of DHA into fetal cells.
Humans can synthesize DHA and EPA from ALA, but only at very low amounts (often less than 1%). For this reason, ALA is not considered a reliable source of meeting your DHA and EPA needs. The best food source of DHA and EPA is coldwater fatty fish, like salmon, herring, and sardines. These fish do not produce Omega-3, but rather they bioaccumulate it from the original source of DHA and EPA, marine algae.
Why do I need Omega-3 before pregnancy?
There are several benefits to optimizing your Omega-3 levels before conceiving a baby. Firstly, many women start out pregnancy deficient in Omega-3, and levels are often cut in half over the ensuing 9 months as baby’s nutritional needs are prioritized. Starting out with healthy levels ensures that baby and mama get their needs met, minimizing the risk of postnatal depletion for mamas-to-be.
Omega-3 also plays a key role in successfully conceiving a baby, including through balancing hormones, moderating inflammation, and improving egg health. Healthy Omega-3 levels have even been shown to prolong the reproductive lifespan for women 35+. Omega-3 is important for male fertility too, with studies demonstrating that Omega-3 supplementation can significantly improve sperm concentration and motility in men.
Why do I need Omega-3 during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, Omega-3 supports baby’s brain development and cell growth, particularly during the third trimester when growth really accelerates.
Omega-3 supplementation in women with very low levels has also been shown to improve gestational length, leading to lower preterm labor incidence, the leading cause of fetal and infant health problems. There are also likely benefits to reducing the risk of pre-eclampsia, a serious complication for both baby and mama.
Healthy Omega-3 levels have also been linked to maternal mood and brain function, thus helping a mama-to-be’s overall wellbeing.
Why do I need Omega-3 after pregnancy?
Healthy postpartum Omega-3 levels are critical for breastmilk nutrient content, maternal mood, brain function, hormone balance, and overall postpartum recovery.
After giving so much to baby during pregnancy, many women’s Omega-3 stores are depleted. This depletion is often worsened through subsequent pregnancies. Ensuring mama’s Omega-3 needs are met in the postpartum period can benefit mama, baby, and her future pregnancies for years to come.
Why are most women so deficient in Omega-3?
As you’ll recall, the best dietary source of DHA and EPA is fish. The Western diet is typically very low in fish consumption, falling far short of the FDA’s recommended 2-3 servings of fish per week. This is especially true during pregnancy, when many women avoid fish due to food aversions, or the fear of accumulating heavy metals and microplastics from our fish supply. A study looking at DHA and EPA intake from 2003-2008 found that, on average, women aged 19-55 consume just 48mg of DHA and 19mg of EPA per day from food sources. The numbers improve only slightly, to 53mg of DHA and 31mg of EPA per day, when including supplementation in dietary intake. Many women’s vitamins and supplements (including prenatals!) contain very low amounts of DHA and EPA--that’s if they include any at all.
It’s also worth noting that the typical Western diet is much higher in Omega-6 (inflammatory) fats-foods such as vegetable oil, corn, soybeans, and animals fed a diet high in these foods-than in Omega-3 (anti-inflammatory). This Omega-6:3 ratio can be as high as 25:1, while the ideal balance is between 4:1 and 1:1. Omega-6 and Omega-3 “compete” for space within your cell membranes. An excess of Omega-6 hinders your body’s ability to effectively utilize the Omega-3 you do have because of this “crowding out” effect. In addition to shifting your diet towards a better balance of Omega-3 vs Omega-6 rich foods, supplementing with a high quality Omega-3 can be very important in maintaining an optimal Omega 3:6 ratio.
What does this mean for a new mama or mama-to-be?
To put this in the context of pregnancy, during the Third Trimester and first year of life, a baby requires an average of 67mg of DHA per day to build its rapidly growing brain. This means most women are taking in less DHA per day than their baby requires. Nature has evolved to give nutritional preference to a growing baby, ensuring that it gets everything it needs--even if mom isn’t consuming enough. The consequences of this depletion are felt by mom, whose already- low-levels of Omega-3 often become further depleted due to the demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that Omega-3 is critical to fetal, infant, and maternal health and wellness outcomes, most prenatal vitamins don’t contain the American Pregnancy Association’s recommended 300mg of DHA per day, if they contain any at all. And, given the strong evidence supporting EPA’s role for maternal mood, hormone balance, and postpartum recovery, as well as EPA’s role in shuttling DHA across the placenta to baby, it’s further surprising that very few prenatals contain a meaningful amount of EPA.
That’s where proper supplementation with a balance of DHA and EPA comes into play. Our Omega-3 is specifically tailored to the needs of women before, during and after pregnancy, with a nourishing formulation, paired with helper nutrients like choline and sunflower lecithin, to ensures you absorb more of the DHA and EPA you and your baby need.
The more Omega-3 DHA and EPA you consume, the better you are likely to feel. Nourishing yourself as a mama, so you can feel your best while nourishing the next generation. This is needed.