The Vital Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
At some point or another I’m sure you’ve heard the term “omega-3 fatty acid”. So what exactly are omega-3s and why are they important for pregnancy and beyond?
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid that the body needs to function properly. They are essential because they body can’t produce them on its own. As a result, we need to get them from an outside source; dietary or through supplements. Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential to proper body function, but we tend to hear more about omega-3s since our standard diets are typically already high in omega-6s. This is why some women may already be deficient in omega-3s before they become pregnant, and then pregnancy zaps whatever little they do have.
Some functions of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Body
- Regulate inflammatory processes
- Support neurological development
- Help with depression and anxiety
- Support healthy immune function
- Promote healthy skin and joints
- Support and maintain proper heart function
- Optimize eye health
DHA vs EPA
Omega-3s can be divided into two main active forms – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both play an important role in cell membrane health and cell communication. While DHA is a major structural component of the brain and eyes (which is important for a growing fetus), we still need EPA to help with transportation of nutrients to the placenta.
EPA is also more effective for mental health support. All omega-3 supplements will contain both, but different ratios of DHA and EPA may be important at different phases of pregnancy. Check with a health care provider to find out what is best for you.
Role of Omega-3s in Pregnancy
We know how important omega-3s are in our bodies for optimal function, and we also need to have them to support a growing fetus. This is especially true when we think about the fetus’s rapidly growing neurological system (brain, eyes, etc).
It’s also suggested that omega-3 supplementation may have an effect on decreasing preterm labour and perinatal mood disorders, like postpartum depression. In both cases this can help to prevent other complications that may come up during and after delivery.
The Postpartum Period
There is a lot of change happening in your postpartum body, and having these essential nutrients handy can go a long way towards helping you heal. Omega-3s are important for anyone experiencing postpartum mood disorders, as they play a regulatory role in both serotonin and dopamine receptors.
Omega-3s are still important for your baby once they enter the outside world. Babies can get their omega-3s from a good quality formula or through breast milk. What’s most important is that they continue to get omega-3s for continued neurological support and development, and there is also research that shows babies who get enough tend to have fewer allergies and eczema.
Food vs. Supplementation
While it is possible to get omega-3 fatty acids from food sources, most need to be converted into the active forms of EPA and DHA, which our bodies aren’t effective at doing. Our diets also tend to be ineffective in providing the omega-3s that we need, meaning that we’re still deficient or lacking in these vital nutrients.
The most effective way to get the right dose and type of omega-3s is through supplementation with a good quality fish oil or algae source supplement. Again, talking with your health care provider can really help narrow down what will be best for you during all perinatal phases.