Omega-3 and Breastfeeding
Several health benefits are associated with omega-3. Breastfeeding women may be able to take these supplements to help with their child's brain and eye development. Omega-3 fatty acids pass through breast milk, so if you get enough supplementation, your baby probably will, too. Since side effects are possible with omega-3, breastfeeding women should talk to their healthcare providers before taking supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are important for your baby's brain and eye development. However, there is some concern that some omega-3 supplements, especially those made from fish, may contain heavy metals such as mercury or other toxins. Therefore, if you are breastfeeding or thinking of breastfeeding and are considering taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, make sure to check with your healthcare provider first.
You may have noticed that many of the new infant formulas on the market now contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Does this mean that if you choose to breastfeed your infant will be deficient in DHA? Would it be beneficial for you to take extra DHA? DHA passes through breast milk, and if you get enough of it, your baby probably will, too. However, the typical American diet is often low in DHA, since the omega-3 fatty acid is found mostly in oily fish.
If you don't eat much fish, should you take a DHA omega-3 fatty acid supplement? DHA may be important for eye and brain development, although research in this area is lacking. Studies have generally been small, and some studies have failed to show any benefit for DHA supplementation. At this point, it's not really clear if taking an omega-3 supplement is really beneficial.
There are three good ways to get more omega-3 fatty acids. First, eat more fish (although heavy metals and other toxins can be a concern). If you do not want to eat more fish, a prenatal vitamin with omega-3 fatty acids or an omega-3 supplement may be considered. Some new prenatal vitamins contain omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA), and many healthcare providers recommend taking such prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding. If your prenatal vitamin does not contain DHA, consider adding a non-prescription DHA supplement designed especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women (such as Expecta® Lipil®).
Omega-3 fatty acids are not free of side effects (see Omega-3 Side Effects), including potentially dangerous ones (see Omega-3 Safety). Therefore, you should take omega-3 supplements while breastfeeding only with your healthcare provider's approval.