Should You Take DHA Supplements If You Are Breastfeeding?

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DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid. It is an important nutrient for both children and adults. DHA is necessary for the health of your body systems including your brain and your nervous system. It contributes to mental health, vision, and a healthy heart. DHA is not made by your body, so you need to get this essential nutrient through the foods that you eat.

DHA Naturally Found in Breast Milk

DHA is naturally found in the breast milk of mothers who eat fish, eggs, and red meat. It is critical for the growth and development of your baby's brain and nervous system, especially since your baby's brain grows very quickly in his first year of life and triples in size by his first birthday. It also plays a significant role in the development of a baby's eyes.

DHA is so important that infant formula companies now add DHA to their products. However, it is not known if the DHA added to formula is as beneficial to babies as the DHA that occurs naturally in breast milk.

Should You Take DHA Supplements If You're Breastfeeding?

Ideally, you should get about 1,500 milligrams of DHA per week, preferably from the foods that you eat. But some breastfeeding mothers, understandably, struggle to eat a well-balanced diet (as well as get enough calories). So you may need to supplement your diet with additional DHA.

Your prenatal vitamin may already contain DHA, but if it doesn't, talk to your doctor about taking a DHA supplement of 200 to 400 milligrams a day.

How to Get DHA From Food

To ensure that your baby gets enough of this important omega-3 fatty acid, it is essential that you get enough DHA in your diet. You can get DHA by eating:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna (avoid fish high in mercury, such as swordfish)
  • Red meat
  • Organ meat
  • Eggs 
  • Whole milk cheeses
  • Green vegetables

How to Get Enough DHA If You're Vegetarian or Vegan

If you are breastfeeding on a vegan or strict vegetarian diet, then you can get some of the necessary DHA from foods such as:

  • Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil (1 tablespoon per day)
  • Canola oil
  • Edamame or soybeans 
  • Walnuts and Brazil nuts
  • Wheat germ
  • Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds
  • Algae and seaweed

However, dietary DHA from these non-animal food sources may not be enough. You should talk to your doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin that includes DHA or taking a separate daily DHA supplement. You may also consider adding some dairy products and eggs to your diet just while you're pregnant and breastfeeding.

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Article Sources
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  1. Bradbury J. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): an ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients. 2011;3(5):529-54. doi:10.3390/nu3050529

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books, 2011.

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition. Mosby, 2011.

  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2014.