Is DHA important for a nursing mother?

Kathy Snider
Neonatal Nursing

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid which is found in abundance in cold water oceanic fish oils. In humans, DHA is provided primarily by diet intake, and in a nursing mother, it can be found in human breast milk. Many formula companies have realized the importance of DHA in the dietary intake of newborn milk, and have now added it to some of their milk formulas. Some research has shown that the DHA levels of breast milk vary a lot based on the diet of the breastfeeding mother. Research has shown that breast milk does boost the growth of the brain because breast milk contains a lot of DHA, as long as the breastfeeding mother, herself, eats foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. So DHA is the main reason why breastfeeding has been shown to increase a child's intelligence. Nursing mothers can increase their levels of DHA in their breast milk by adding fresh fish that are known to be more oily (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel), or if fish isn't your favorite, you can take flax seed oil or flax seed. Increasing your DHA intake as a nursing mother can increase the amount of DHA in your breast milk for your baby.

Ms. Kathryne A. LeMieux
Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
If you are trying to increase your DHA levels, check with your MD before eating fish and read warnings on labels. In the mid-west some contaminants in the local water tables are found in high levels in fish; high mercury levels and others may prohibit eating large amounts of ocean fish as well. There are types of fish that are less inclined to store contaminants and pesticides, but check it out! Fish is still an essential source for nutrients, protein, oils and DHA -- a baby brain booster!
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is a primary fat in the developing and infant brain. Although breast milk contains significant amounts, levels depend on the mother’s diet. Watch the animation to learn more about DHA and breastfeeding.

Continue Learning about Nutrition & Pregnancy

DHA-Omega 3s for Expecting Moms
DHA-Omega 3s for Expecting Moms
More and more evidence is piling up about the health benefits of eating foods high in DHA omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and trout and taking DHA-om...
Read More
Why does my body store fat during pregnancy?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
The growth around your mid-section doesn't just happen because Freddy Jr. has decided to make camp t...
More Answers
How can low folic acid levels affect my baby if I am pregnant?
Dariush Mozaffarian, MDDariush Mozaffarian, MD
Some Americans, including a fair number of women of childbearing age, don't get enough of folic acid...
More Answers
What Are the Most Important Nutrients to Get During Pregnancy?
What Are the Most Important Nutrients to Get During Pregnancy?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.