Recent studies indicate that DHA, a fat found in Omega-3 fatty acid, is an essential fat & building block for a child’s brain both during pregnancy and throughout early life. DHA , or docosahexaenoic acid, is found in Omega-3 along with other various types of fatty acids.
DHA is found in many varieties of fish and some supplements containing fish oil. This fatty acid has shown to be critically important for healthy brain development for a baby during its fetal stages and throughout early life as an infant.
The importance of DHA in relation to brain development should not come as a surprise as the the overall makeup of the brain is water and fat. Our brain’s activity largely relies upon the functions that the outer membrane executes while acting a the nerve conduction cable. DHA levels vary in different body tissues and organs. The brain has one of the highest concentrations of DHA, therefore the infant brain has a never ending need for DHA which is available only from the mother at that stage of life.
Studies on DHA shed light on the consequences of poor levels during early stages of life. Results indicate that mothers who registered a below average level of DHA were putting their children at risk for various brain issues. Infants with brain development problems have an increased predisposition for learning disabilities and a later indication of lower IQ. Studies have indicated that a fetus that was provided a higher amount of DHA typically had a higher IQ score by 6 points on average throughout life.
Brain development issues originate early on as the fetus, during the most early stages of life, depends completely upon the mother’s body for all of its needs, including DHA. Once the baby has been born, that need only grows. Similar to those early stages, the newborn still obtains the necessary DHA from breast milk during the first few months of life outside the womb. Having a high intake of DHA during pregnancy and during the first few months after the birth of the child is paramount for healthy brain development to continue.
Sadly, many women and mothers are not aware of the importance of DHA in their diet. Many women, because of this lack of understanding, do not take in nearly enough DHA to pass along to their child. The importance of proper DHA intake during early life is also critical as there is no way to make up for a lack of DHA later in the child’s life. After pregnancy and the first 3 months of the baby’s life, the need for DHA is no longer as critical. While DHA consumption after this period is still important for the health and development of the child, it will not have nearly the impact as it would during the first months of life.
Interestingly enough, research also revealed that the firstborn child will often have a higher IQ than subsequent children. This is due to the fact that the first born child has access to the mother’s lifelong accumulation of DHA collected in her tissues up to that point plus all of the DHA available to the child through her breast milk. This can be altered, though, if the mother works to maintain an aggressive diet and intake of omega-3 foods and supplements to replenish her reserves for the next child.
It is imperative that doctors and new mother educate themselves and others on the importance of DHA. By increasing your intake of fish each week and introducing a DHA-rich daily supplement to your regimen, you and your children can live a healthier life.