Babies and toddlers are growing and developing at an incredible pace. As parents, we’re amazed at how quickly they go from learning how to roll over to crawling and then toddling all over the house. While these outward changes are very apparent, there are incredible changes taking place inside your little one’s body, too. Their brains, eyes, and organs are growing and developing just as fast.
What is DHA and Why Do Babies Need It?
With all of these changes taking place, proper nutrition is essential. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an essential fatty acid that is especially important for your baby’s development both before and after birth.
It is a foundational nutrient used for numerous physiological and cellular processes that are necessary for growth and optimal development.
DHA is essential for the development of your baby’s eyes and brain in large amounts during pregnancy and for the first few years of life.
The body is not capable of producing DHA on its own, so it must come from outside sources. Before a baby is born, DHA is transferred through the mother’s placenta to the developing fetus.
But, once your baby is born, this essential nutrient must come from breastmilk, formula, supplements, and eventually solid foods.
DHA plays such a prominent role in brain development that not receiving enough of it early in life can have long-term impacts. Optimal levels of DHA are essential for your baby’s cognitive, physical, and social development in numerous ways.
DHA plays a key role in:
- Eyesight development
- Language development and cognition
- Motor skills
- Immune system development
- Allergy response
- Ability to focus and concentrate
Studies show that babies who don’t get enough DHA during early development have weakened immune systems, difficulty paying attention, poor motor skills, and slower physical development.
What About EPA?
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is another omega-3 fatty acid that is often mentioned in conjunction with DHA. Although EPA is important at all ages, it is not needed at such high levels for early brain and eye development.
Most experts believe supplementing with DHA is more important during the prenatal period and for the first few years of life.
That being said, healthy fats (including all omega-3s) are important for brain health, heart health, reducing inflammation, and much more at any age. So, babies can benefit from receiving EPA, as well, even though it’s not as crucial.
Many Infants and Toddlers Do Not Get Enough DHA
Despite the importance of DHA for brain and eye development, as well as overall health, many infants and toddlers do not get nearly enough of it. Studies show that the average American diet is seriously deficient in all omega-3 fatty acids.
Not only that, but women of child-bearing age and pregnant women aren’t getting enough omega-3s either. Since babies get their DHA from their mom during gestation and then from breastmilk after birth, low DHA levels in mom translate to low DHA levels for baby, as well.
How to Ensure That Your Baby Gets Enough DHA
Ensuring that your baby has optimum DHA levels begins when you are pregnant, and even before you conceive.
If at all possible, begin taking a prenatal vitamin that includes omega-3 fatty acids a few months before you begin trying to get pregnant. Then, continue taking it throughout your entire pregnancy and for as long as you are breastfeeding after your baby is born.
It’s important to note that, while DHA is necessary at some level during all stages of pregnancy, the largest amount of fetal brain development takes place during the third trimester. So, if you didn’t plan ahead, that’s ok! Just be sure to start taking an omega-3 supplement as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
Once your baby is born, DHA must come from outside sources. Since it is so crucial, most doctors recommend supplementing with 500 to 800 milligrams of DHA per day, depending on your little one’s age.
How to Choose the Right Baby Multivitamin with DHA
Here are some key guidelines to keep in mind when choosing your baby’s multivitamin:
- Your baby’s nutritional needs will vary based on age, health, and whether or not your breastfeeding, feeding formula, or feeding some solid foods. Always talk to your doctor before choosing a multivitamin for your baby, just to be safe.
- Look for a safe multivitamin for babies that includes DHA as well as vitamin D, vitamin C, and other essential nutrients your baby needs for proper growth and development. Although most of your little one’s nutrition should come from food, providing a well-rounded multivitamin from the very beginning prevents any nutrient deficiencies that could affect your baby’s health later in life.
- Look for a supplement that contains natural ingredients and is free of fillers and dyes. Many supplements are made from synthetic ingredients that are harder to absorb and digest. The best way to know if a multivitamin is safe for your baby is to choose products that are Clean Label Project Certified. This ensures that the supplement is free of heavy metals, chemicals, contaminants, and other additives that could be harmful to your baby.
- Choose supplements that are tested by an independent laboratory. The best way to know if a product label is accurate is to look for the US Pharmacopeia Convention, Consumer Lab, or NSF International seal on the label.
DHA is one of the most critical nutrients your baby needs for optimum brain and eye development. Choosing the right multivitamin with DHA is the easiest way to ensure that your little one is getting enough of this key nutrient. Choosing a well-rounded multivitamin will also prevent any nutrient deficiencies that could impact your child’s health later in life.