Omega 3 Oils are a brain boost for both you and your little one!
I know I don’t need to convince any of you new mums or mum’s-to-be (whether your expecting for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 6th time) that baby brain is a real thing! While there are many factors making us feel like we might be losing our minds – the lack of sleep, the major life changes and the multitasking; we must not discount nutritional deficiencies as a reason why we aren’t functioning at our best. Deficiencies can also mean we are not providing our developing baby with the optimum nutrition he/she needs.
The importance of supplementing with folate/folic acid and calcium during pregnancy is widely known. The importance of Omega 3 supplementation however, is much less talked about. In some cases it is simply misunderstood or confused by the government guidelines about what’s safe versus what’s not when it comes to eating fish while pregnant. Government guidelines regarding fish consumption for pregnant, breastfeeding and women of childbearing age are based on concerns about heavy metal toxicity, not protein or consumption of essential fats. The key here is the type of fish and fish oils we consume. The bad stuff can be easily avoided and the good stuff is absolutely necessary.
So what exactly are Omega 3 fats and what makes them so important for pre and postnatal woman? Omega 3’s are essential fatty acids that we must get from our diets through food and supplementation. They are found in fish and also in a few vegetarian sources like as flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and their oils. They are needed for healthy hormone functioning so their role in making healthy babies actually starts prior to conception (ladies, these important fats are not only required by you but also needed by the man in your life to create healthy sperm).
There is a difference between Omega 3 fats from fish versus vegetarian sources like flax oil. The reason for this distinction is that fish oil contains the fatty acids EPA and DHA (two derivatives of Omega 3) whereas flax oil contains ALA. The body must convert ALA into EPA and DHA and although the body can make this conversion it is incredibly inefficient at it. Women tend to have a conversion rate somewhere around 9% so you can see why you may not be getting enough EPA and DHA with vegetarian sources alone. It’s best to eat Omega 3s from a variety of sources, but I would recommend obtaining appropriate amounts from high quality fish and fish oils while pregnant and breastfeeding.
While it is best to enter pregnancy already eating plenty of Omega 3 oils and having corrected any possible deficiencies, it is never too late to increase your intake. As pregnancy progresses, and even after your baby has arrived, it is just as important to continue getting enough of these healthy fats. Our brain is composed largely of fat and so is our baby’s brain. During pregnancy the brain, retina and nervous system of your developing fetus requires the essential fatty acid DHA (as mentioned this comes mainly from fish oil). Once your baby arrives these essential fats continue nourishing your baby through your breast milk, provided you yourself are getting enough. For formula fed babies, it is recommended that you supplement with DHA at least until your baby is weaning and able to eat oily fish and meet his/her Omega 3 requirements through food alone (speak to your doctor about an age appropriate supplement).
As mentioned some fish sources are not safe for consumption during pregnancy but many certainly are. Always choose fish that are wild and low on the food chain (the smaller the better). Best sources include wild caught salmon, cod, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Mummies, aim to eat a variety of these several times per week and supplement with high quality fish oil daily from a trusted source. This means one that is made from wild-caught fish and from a company who tests their oils for purity.
The research has shown us that prenatal mums with good Omega 3 intakes are less likely to have a premature baby or one born with low birth weight. Babies with optimum levels of Omega 3s have also been found to have higher IQ’s later in life. Your baby’s Omega 3 needs really begin prior to conception and then we need these essential fats to nourish us throughout our entire life. Omega 3s offer so many other important benefits like keeping your heart and cardiovascular system healthy and reducing inflammation in the body.
Regarding baby brain in all you lovely mothers out there – while I can’t guarantee fish oil will ‘solve’ this problem, it may help, but even if you continue to feel like you are losing your mind, you can take comfort knowing its helping create a super brain for your super baby.
Jessica E. Williams, MSc is the co-founder of Body Awakenings.