Throughout the growth period of a child’s brain, DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, plays a critical role in the development of healthy neurons. From long before a baby is born to well after he has taken his first steps, DHA is essential in helping to build intelligence, attention span, and emotional health. Knowing the many risks of DHA deficiency, parents are more anxious than ever to make sure that their children are getting enough of this important omega-3 fat.
Without access to education and resources, it may be difficult to ensure that your baby is getting enough DHA in his diet. The additional expense of DHA-fortified foods can also be a factor in the high rates of DHA deficiency among babies of all ages. These tips can help you to make sure your baby is getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in his diet, without much extra cost or hassle.
Take Omega-3 Supplements During Pregnancy.
Your baby’s need for DHA begins before he is even born. The majority of critical brain growth occurs in utero, and it isn’t completed until at least age 3. Many well-documented studies have shown that mothers who are deficient in omega-3 supplements are likely to have children with learning delays and mental retardation. Through these studies, doctors have now clearly proven that DHA during pregnancy is a very important aspect of prenatal nutrition. Talk to your obstetrician about fish oil or other omega-3 supplements during pregnancy.
Except in rare situations, exclusive breastfeeding is an essentail element in giving your baby the best possible start in life. The levels of DHA found in breastmilk are just one example of the hundreds of important compounds that can not be found in all types of formula, and it is formula-induced DHA-deficiency that causes a 7 percent decrease in IQ among artificially fed babies. Breastfeeding for as long as possible is one of the most important factors in making sure your baby gets enough DHA. During nursing, you may want to take fish oil or another omega-3 supplement to make sure that you maintain adequate levels of DHA in your milk.
Use DHA-Fortified Formula
If breastfeeding is not possible or supplementation is necessary, use only infant formulas that have been fortified with DHA. Because the health and function of your baby’s brain depends on DHA, formulas that contain added omega-3 fats are well worth the additional expense. Some studies have indicated that babies fed DHA-fortified formula have similar brain development compared to babies fed only breastmilk. It is wonderful to know that babies who must be fed formula might still be able to receive the brain-boosting omega-3 fats found in breastmilk.
Consider Baby Foods Enhanced with DHA
When a baby is weaned away from breastfeeding through the introduction of solid foods, she is likely to begin to experience DHA deficiency, since infant foods do not usually contain the fatty acid. Recently, many major baby food manufacturers, incuding Gerber and Beechnut, have begun creating and distributing infant cereals and pureed vegetables that have been enhanced with algal oil, a healthy and safe source of DHA. The introduction of these products may help to prevent transient deficiency as the baby’s diet is switched from breastmilk to solids.
Introduce Natural DHA Sources
As your baby begins eating more solid foods and makes a transition away from pureed foods and infant cereals, she will be able to benefit from the addition of natural DHA sources to her diet. Foods like salmon and flaxseed oil are generally seen as ideal sources of natural DHA. Other “grown-up” foods that are available in DHA fortified forms include soy milk, cow’s milk, yogurt, and cheese. Scour your local health food store and you are sure to find ideal solid-food sources of DHA.
Thanks to modern research, pediatricians are increasingly aware of the need for DHA in a baby’s diet. With preparation, patience, and perhaps a willingness to spend a tad more money, you’ll be able to give your child the brain-building omega-3 fats that he needs to grow a healthy, strong mind.
Sources: Meharban Singh (March 2005). “Essential Fatty Acids, DHA and the Human Brain from the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 72”; Beth Vincent, MHS (2005-10-31). “The Importance of DHA During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding”; Rivlin, Gary (2007-01-14). “Magical or Overrated? A Food Additive in a Swirl”, New York Times;