Nutrient: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid.
Why It's Important: Omega-3 fatty acids, especially the kind found in fish, and DHA in particular, have been shown to be vital in normal brain and eye development and functioning in fetuses. It can also lower the risk of premature birth and increase the birth weight. There is also some evidence that supplementation might help prevent preeclampsia, postpartum depression, menopausal problems, postmenopausal osteoporosis and breast cancer. It also helps women avoid heart disease.
How to Get Enough: Although there is currently no DRI for DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids, nutritionists recommend shooting for 200 mgs per day, an amount easily gotten by eating two fish dinners per week. Almost all fish contain at least trace amounts of DHA, but salmon, herring, anchovies, and bluefin tuna are especially good sources of it. DHA is also found in some eggs, and fortified in some milks, cheeses, soymilks and snack foods such as cereal bars.
Before or After Pregnancy: If you eat two fish meals a week, and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, you probably don’t need to supplement with DHA, but consult your physician.
During Pregnancy: Certain fish that are high in DHA are not recommended during pregnancy because they contain high levels of mercury which could be toxic to a fetus and to you! These fish include shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish. Canned albacore tuna should be eaten in moderation (up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week is fine). It is recommended that pregnant women eat up to 12 ounces per week of other fishes, including cod, flounder, shrimp, snapper, sole, tilapia, and wild salmon. Ask your doctor if you should take a prenatal vitamin that contains omega-3 fatty acids. The label will say either DHA or EPA (which converts to DHA in the body).