Posted: May 22, 2012 12:00 PM
DHA is crucial to a healthy pregnancy and infant development. The only problem is that most American women get less than 100mg of DHA daily.

Many obstetricians recommend that mothers-to-be take a prenatal vitamin fortified with the omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA. An alternative is to take a separate DHA supplement to enhance baby's brain, eye and nervous system development in the womb. Unfortunately, along with any number of other triggers, DHA is not always an easy supplement for pregnant women to stomach.

Why DHA is important

DHA is found throughout the body but most abundantly in the brain, eyes and heart. However, according to Cassie France-Kelly of Martek Biosciences, producer of life'sDHA, "Developing infants cannot efficiently produce their own DHA and must obtain this vital nutrient through the placenta during pregnancy and from breast milk after birth."

Because most women have a DHA deficiency, it's important to increase the amount of DHA you take in, especially during pregnancy.

Where you can find DHA

If a prenatal vitamin or DHA supplement doesn't agree with you, there are certain foods that are a great alternative to taking this fatty acid in vitamin or supplement form. Enriched eggs can have as much as 150 mg of DHA per egg, says France-Kelly. A growing number of foods and beverages enriched with DHA are widely available such as milk, soy milk, yogurts, juices, breads and cheeses.

"It can be as easy as substituting foods you already know and love with the DHA-enriched versions," says France-Kelly. These servings can have between 32 to 100 mg of DHA -- and that will make a significant difference in a mom's daily diet.

A word of caution

"Cold-water, fatty fish -- like salmon and tuna -- are the natural dietary source of DHA," says France-Kelly. But, she cautions, these fish also tend to be high in mercury and other contaminants, and consumption of them can be detrimental to a developing baby.

Always consult your obstetrician about any food item that you feel may be questionable to the health of your pregnancy, regardless of its high DHA levels.

A word of hope

While the majority of moms experience some form of the baby blues after delivery, it can make you feel hopeful to know that recent research has suggested that adequate levels of DHA in a mother's diet may play a role in helping her maintain a stable emotional well-being after birth. And once that baby is born and your diet is back to normal, you can stock up on all of your favorite DHA-rich foods!

More about the first trimester

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The 5 most surprising things about the first trimester