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Omega-3s for Pregnancy and Lactation

By: Evita Basilio

shutterstock_246820519When you are pregnant, you need more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3s travel through your placenta to your baby, and support the growth of your baby’s brain and tissues. The optimal intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) has been estimated to be 0.8-1.1 g/day for children and adults. Health Canada recommends that pregnant women consume an additional 0.05 g/day of omega-3 fatty acids during the first trimester and an additional 0.16 g/day during the second and third trimesters. Lactating women should increase their omega-3 fatty acid intake by an additional 0.25 g/day.


Age in Years Aim for an ALA intake of grams (g)/day
Men 19 and older 1.6
Women 19 and older 1.1
Pregnant Women 19 and older 1.4
Breastfeeding Women 19 and older 1.3

ALA is found in certain vegetable oils, walnuts, flaxseeds and soy products. Below is list of vegetable oils high in Omega-3s. No upper limit has been established for ALA and flaxseed oil is the richest ALA source.

Fats and Oils  Serving size  ALA (g)
Canola oil 5 mL (1 tsp) 0.42
Flaxseed oil 5 mL (1 tsp) 2.58
Omega-3 margarine made with canola oil 5 mL (1 tsp) 0.34
Soybean oil 5 mL (1 tsp) 0.31
Walnut oil 5 mL (1 tsp) 0.48

Experts agree that infant formulas should be designed to approximate the fatty acid composition of breast milk and include omega-3 fatty acids. Infants may have a unique need for essential fatty acids, particularly ALA, which is the most prevalent omega-3 fatty acid in human milk. The omega-6/omega-3 ratio of infant formula may be especially important, as the relative amounts of these fatty acids influence the amounts of DHA and arachidonic acid formed in tissues.

ALA is converted to the biologically active omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, which, in turn, is converted to the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA. DHA is the critical component of cell membranes in the brain and retina, where it is involved in visual and neural function as well as neurotransmitter metabolism. The accumulation of DHA begins in utero and is derived predominantly through placental transfer.

Flaxseed oil is an excellent vegetarian source of Omega-3s and is especially important for pregnant and lactating women. Talk to your doctor about Omega-3s and find out how much flaxseed oil you should be having!


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