Expectant moms know prenatal vitamins are essential when it comes to reducing the risk of birth defects. The March of Dimes, the nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality, recently amended its supplement recommendations to highlight the important role of the omega 3 fatty acid DHA in the health of moms-to-be and their babies.
“Omega 3 fatty acids are important for everyone’s health, but especially important for pregnant and nursing women,” said Alan Fleischman, MD, senior vice president and medical director for the March of Dimes.
The March of Dimes suggests that pregnant women consume at least 200 mg of DHA every day to help support fetal brain and eye development. After the baby is born, DHA omega 3 fatty acids consumed through breastfeeding may also help support mental, visual and motor skill development, Dr. Fleischman said.
Omega 3 fatty acids are naturally found in certain types of fish, nuts and vegetable oils. However, DHA is present naturally in specific fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and tuna, as well as algal oil, organ meats and breast milk. Pregnant or nursing women or those planning a pregnancy should eat up to 12-oz. of low-mercury content fish per week and avoid high-mercury content fish, Dr. Fleischman noted.
For women who are vegetarians, or who have safety concerns about fish, foods fortified with DHA or a multivitamin or supplement containing at least 200 mg of DHA are good choices.
To help disseminate the new recommendations, the March of Dimes has added content to its website and to certain consumer educational materials about omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA.
The tenor of the organization’s new campaign mirrors its last recommendation regarding folic acid consumption. “We did have a folic acid campaign from 1999-2002, and we continue to promote our campaign message: All women of childbearing age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, as part of a healthy diet,” said Janis Biermann, March of Dimes’ senior vice president for Education and Health Promotion. “We have actively promoted preconception intake of folic acid since 1992 (but our campaign started in 1999). If all women of childbearing age took 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect could be reduced by 50% to 70%. Folic acid is the only known vitamin that can help to reduce birth defects.”
The new March of Dimes DHA omega 3 awareness effort is supported by a three-year agreement with Martek Biosciences Corporation, which was formed to help promote the importance of DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Martek Biosciences is a Columbia, MD-based producer of a sustainable, vegetarian source of DHA omega 3 that is used in numerous foods, beverages and supplements.
“DHA is very important for pregnant women and their babies,” commented Anthony Martin, Martek Biosciences’ public relations specialist. “Studies have shown that increased availability of DHA omega 3 during pregnancy and lactation nourishes the neurological, visual and nervous system development of babies and may play an important role in long-term infant heart health and maternal well-being. Yet despite its importance, Americans have among the lowest dietary intakes of DHA omega 3 in the world.”
Given March of Dimes’ far-reaching level of influence when it comes to helping moms-to-be do all they can to have a healthy pregnancy and baby, the organization is very critical and thorough before formally recommending any type of nutritional supplement to the public at large. When asked if the March of Dimes might consider extending their awareness campaigns to include other vitamins, minerals or nutrients, Ms. Biermann said the organization would, but only if overwhelming science demonstrated a benefit to maternal and child health.