We know that postpartum depression is a serious concern. Identification and prevention is key to helping moms avoid feeling more than just baby blues so that they can care for themselves and their babies.
A recent study on a small group of pregnant women found that those who took DHA, Omega-3 supplements during their pregnancy had a decreased risk of postpartum depression. According to the lead author, Dr. Michelle Price Judge, it’s thought that as pregnancy progresses into the 3rd trimester, more of the mother’s stores of DHA are transferred to the baby, which causes a depletion in the mother.
Omega-3’s are a good source of DHA. Can taking it in pregnancy really reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression? It’s possible that because of the way DHA works, it might help improve mood.
DHA is thought to be associated with the production of the neurochemicals, dopamine and serotonin, which affect mood. In the study, mothers who took DHA also had better sleeping patterns after their babies were born. We also know that sleep deprivation is linked to post-partum depression. The amount of DHA was 300 mg taken 5 days/week, which is significantly higher than the average of 50 mg that pregnant women normally get from food.
As a nurse practitioner, I’m all about food first, which is why I recommend that all my patients and those that are pregnant get at least 2 servings of fatty fish each week. But if they’re not able to, then I recommend a supplement. For pregnant women, it’s important to avoid fish that is likely to have high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. For a complete list of what to avoid in pregnancy, see my Personal Guide to Pregnancy.
DHA is one of the critical nutrients in a baby’s eye development, perhaps that’s why there’s a transfer from moms to babies in the 3rd trimester. DHA helps protect against damage to the retina and macula from ultraviolet light. When you think about how a baby has their eyes closed while awaiting birth and how dark their environment is, it makes sense that they’d need protection from the potential oxidative damage from sunlight and flourescent light.
We also know that DHA is important for breastfeeding moms as it helps protect a newborn’s delicate retina and macula. Some formulas have additional Omega-3 fatty acids.