How Omega-3s Build Brighter Baby Brains
Safe seafood is one of the most important “Pregnancy Superfoods” we recommend when eating for two. Baby’s brain is 60% fat and it just so happens that the top fats in fish, omega-3s, are also the top fats a baby’s brain needs as it develops. Research reveals that baby’s growing brain extracts the most omega-3 DHA from mother’s blood during the last three months of her pregnancy. This makes sense since this is the time when baby’s brain grows most rapidly. One of the basic health principles of every organ of the body, especially the brain, is “you’re only as healthy as each cell in your body.” In a nutshell, mom’s goal is to help each cell in her baby’s growing body multiply trillions of times a day without any “mistakes.” Omega-3 helps this happen.
- Omega-3s make myelin. Coating the nerve-cell fibers is a fatty sheath called myelin, the white matter of the growing brain that acts like insulation on electrical wires and makes the electrical messages in the brain travel faster. Myelin is mostly fat. The more myelin baby’s brain cells make, the faster and more efficient these electrical messages are. Omega-3’s feed the myelin-making cells, which have some of the highest nutrient requirements of any cell.
- Omega-3s make brain connections. Baby’s brain grows by making trillions of connections. At the end of each nerve fiber are tiny gaps called synapses. A nerve fiber fires neurotransmitters, which are biochemical messengers that carry information like a high speed ferryboat from one brain cell to another. On the receiver brain cell are receptors, like locks, into which these neurotransmitters “keys” must fit. Omega-3s make these brain messengers travel faster and more efficiently, and they fashion the receptor sites so the keys fit perfectly.
- Omega-3s help moms be happier. Not only do growing baby brains like omega-3s, so do tired mom brains. One of the newest and most exciting therapeutic findings on the medical benefits of omega-3s is that mothers who eat more omega-3s during pregnancy experience less depression before and after birth. While not all studies come to this conclusion, many do. A dietary omega-3 deficiency contributes to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety at all ages. And babies in particular need extra omega-3s for growing brains and bodies. Research shows that many pregnant women have lower blood levels of omega-3 DHA in the third trimester, when baby’s brain grows the most. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, baby literally sucks the omega-3s out of mom, possibly leaving her with an omega-3 deficiency and resulting depression. A healthy pregnancy diet means having an omega-3 sufficiency—enough for both baby and mother.
So how much omega-3 DHA should pregnant moms try to eat? At least 600 milligrams per day, which they can easily get by eating 6 oz of wild-caught salmon twice a week. And remember, not all seafood is safe seafood, so make sure you do your homework. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is a terrific resource and can help you choose the best and safest seafood to include in your diet.