All You Need To Know About Prenatal Vitamins And DHA
Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
In This Article
Minerals, nutrients, and vitamins are important aspects for your body to make a baby. You are most likely doing your best to maintain a well-balanced diet and taking a prenatal vitamin before and during pregnancy. One nutrient that is commonly overlooked during pregnancy is DHA. DHA is an important omega-3 that plays an important role in both you and your developing baby. Here are the benefits of taking a prenatal vitamin with DHA for both you and your baby.
SHOULD YOU TAKE PRENATAL VITAMINS WITH DHA?
The short answer to that question is yes. DHA is safe in prenatal vitamins. We believe this omega-3 is a key nutrient needed during pregnancy. You and your developing baby will receive many benefits of DHA in prenatal vitamins.
Nutrient needs during pregnancy increase by a lot. Ultimately, it’s the mom’s job to make sure she and her baby get the necessary nutrients needed to thrive via food and prenatal vitamins. One of the many nutrients they need is DHA and isn’t added in all prenatal vitamins on the market.
You may be wondering, what does DHA stand for in prenatal vitamins? DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid and is a type of Omega 3 fatty acid along with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The Omega 3’s, DHA and EPA, work together in the body to support fetal growth and development. DHA can be found in both food and prenatal vitamins.
DHA is an essential fat component involved in different aspects of pregnancy. Research suggests that DHA can reduce the risk of neural tube defects, preterm birth and may even help improve depressive moods from late pregnancy into postpartum, according to a 2021 article.
DHA is present in food. However, most obstetricians recommend pregnant women take prenatal vitamins with DHA and folic acid.
WHAT DOES DHA IN PRENATAL VITAMINS DO? AND WHY IS DHA IMPORTANT DURING PREGNANCY?
DHA helps to support fetal brain, eye, and nervous system development. It is an essential nutrient because your body cannot make it. DHA needs to be consumed by mouth in foods and supplements.
DHA is essential during each trimester, but it’s super important in the 3rd trimester when the baby’s brain develops rapidly, basically every day. It is also crucial during the first trimester when the brain and spinal cord are developing.
DHA is an essential factor for fetal brain development and helps your baby throughout their life. DHA supports the development of the cerebrum, which is responsible for thinking, remembering, and feeling. Supports the development of the cerebellum, which is responsible for all motor control. It also supports the development of the brain stem, which is responsible for your lungs, heart, and blood pressure.
A high heart-healthy fat diet that includes Omega 3’s helps the brain function more efficiently. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 in the brain. The benefits of containing DHA in the diet during pregnancy have lasting positive effects for both mom and baby.
DHA is not only crucial for your developing baby but also plays a crucial role in your brain, skin, and eyes. It also helps support a healthy labor and delivery outcome and has been known to support a healthy mood and well-being during postpartum.
HOW MUCH DHA SHOULD BE IN A PRENATAL VITAMIN?
Every prenatal vitamin is different. Always check the label and make sure it contains the ingredients suitable for you, your body, and your growing baby.
The daily recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) for pregnant and lactating moms is at least 200 mg. A prenatal vitamin doesn’t necessarily need to contain all 200 mg. However, DHA should be one of the nutrients in your prenatal.
Alternatively, there are no known long-term side effects of decreased DHA intake during pregnancy. Research is limited regarding pregnant women, but it is suggested that decreased DHA during pregnancy may compromise fetal growth. We recommend taking good prenatal vitamins with DHA.
WHAT IS THE BEST PRENATAL VITAMIN WITH DHA?
With many prenatal vitamins on the market, it may be overwhelming choosing one to nourish you and your growing baby. Unlike many prenatal vitamins on the market, Feed Mom & Me Complete Prenatal + DHA Multivitamin uses 22 key vitamins and minerals that help nutritionally support you before, during, and after pregnancy. Including 50mg of DHA per serving in our prenatal vitamins with DHA without gelatin.
An Obstetrician and a Registered Dietitian formulated Feed Mom & Me Prenatal Vitamins with DHA without gelatin to create the perfect balance of nutrients to help develop a beautiful, healthy baby.
Please check out our Benefits of Feed Mom & Me Complete Prenatal with DHA Multivitamin Blog for more information on prenatal vitamins. To purchase our gluten-free prenatal vitamins with DHA, click here! You got this mama, you and your little one are going to thrive!
WHY ARE DHA PRENATAL VITAMINS FISHY?
Omega- 3 DHA is derived from various sea-based foods, like fish and algae, which can cause a slight fishy scent to supplements containing DHA. The main sources of DHA are found in the meat of cold-water fish, like mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc. Originally DHA is synthesized from microalgae in the ocean, then ingested by phytoplankton, then ingested by other marine life.
Another factor of a fish odor in prenatal supplements is choline (if the vitamin you decide includes Choline). Choline used in supplements may be derived from fish, which may affect the final product's smell.
Prenatal multivitamins capsules without DHA or Choline supplementation may not have a fishy smell.
CAN YOU TAKE DHA WITH PRENATAL VITAMINS?
Not all supplements include omega-3 DHA, and that is okay! If you find or are taking a prenatal supplement that doesn’t include DHA, you can safely add a DHA supplement to your daily intake. We recommend asking your health care provider if an additional DHA supplement is needed.
We know it may not be irritating to take several supplements to get your daily nutritional intake. That’s why we created our Complete Prenatal with DHA in one single formula.
WHAT FOODS ARE HIGH IN DHA?
Because your body can’t make DHA in significant amounts, you need to get it from your diet and/or supplements. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in both marine and plant-based foods and oils. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), found in plant oils like flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), found in oily fish, like salmon and tuna
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), found in oily fish, like salmon and tuna
Omega 3’s are found naturally in fish. Pregnant women can consume up to 12 ounces of various low mercury fish a week, including salmon and sardines.
Some plant-based foods that contain omega 3’s include ground flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and tofu. We love to sprinkle flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds on everything from yogurt, to oatmeal, and salads too!
Consumption of a variety of foods that contain omega 3’s along with a prenatal vitamin that contains DHA will give mama and her growing baby plenty of nutrition. For recipes that include foods high in Omega 3’s, try our e-book, Feel Good Food for a Healthy Pregnancy.
- Jackson, K. H., & Harris, W. S. (2018). A Prenatal DHA Test to Help Identify Women at Increased Risk for Early Preterm Birth: A Proposal. Nutrients, 10(12), 1933. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121933
- Zhang, MM., Zou, Y., Li, SM. et al. The efficacy and safety of omega-3 fatty acids on depressive symptoms in perinatal women: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Transl Psychiatry 10, 193 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-00886-3
- Mulder, K., Elango, R., & Innis, S. (2018). Fetal DHA inadequacy and the impact on child neurodevelopment: A follow-up of a randomised trial of maternal DHA supplementation in pregnancy. British Journal of Nutrition, 119(3), 271-279. doi:10.1017/S0007114517003531