Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are high in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids have been associated with heart health, joint health, brain health, gut health… the list goes on and on. The two often go hand in hand, and for most conditions, researchers don’t know the perfect ratio of EPA to DHA. But for infant health, DHA is the fatty acid that shines.
DHA is most concentrated in the brain and the retina, which is why it’s been found to be helpful in these areas of the body. In infants, DHA has been found to help improve brain development when pregnant mothers get high amounts, and when infants receive it from breast milk or supplemented formula.
Two new studies add to the science behind DHA for new mothers. One study in preterm infants found that high doses of DHA in baby formula or breast milk resulted in greater growth rate of the head, which was associated with increased mental development—both important factors when considering pre-term infants who are at a developmental disadvantage.
The second study found that pregnant women who took fish oil high in DHA had fewer symptoms common to postpartum depression. Considering 25 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression, this is good news. More studies will be done to determine just how and why DHA works in this way, but the results are promising. Fish oil supplements are a great source of DHA, but look for a formula that has IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) certification to ensure that you’re getting the purest fish oil.