Three Sisters Midwifery: Essential Fatty Acids in Pregnancy

In our practice, we spend a large portion of each prenatal visit educating each pregnant mom about how to take optimal care of herself and her growing baby.  We talk about nutrition, exercise, and sleep.  We talk about her support network and her relationship, her stress level, and her changing emotions.  Another important area we address is whether supplementation would be helpful for supporting wellness.  A particular area I emphasize in our prenatal care is a mom’s intake of essential fatty acids.

Unlike other fats in our diet, essential fatty acids (EFAs) are a type the body cannot make on its own. They are considered essential because we must get them from a food or a supplement.  In all people, EFAs are needed to make hormones, keep inflammation at bay, support our mood, and ensure proper functioning of our nervous system.  EFAs are of great benefit to a pregnant woman because they reduce her risk of pre term birth as well as her risk for postpartum depression.  Moreover, what we see in practice and what we know from clinical research tells us that in pregnancy, EFAs are of great value to the baby because EFAs:

• Build strong, healthy cells and tissues
• Support optimal brain and eye development
• Reduce the lifetime risk of allergies and diabetes
• Are associated with increased intelligence in childhood and lower rates of anxiety, depression, and aggression
• Are associated with a healthy birth weight

EFAs can be obtained in the diet by eating certain animal foods.  While some plant foods such as walnuts and flax seeds contain small amounts of EFAs, these fats are not well utilized by the body.  Organic grass-fed beef and bison, pastured chicken eggs, butter from grass-fed cows, and wild Alaskan salmon are all great EFA sources.  I advise every pregnant mom to include these foods in her diet.  I often prescribe a daily EFA supplement too unless a mom feels she is able to get ample amounts of these foods on a very consistent basis.  I prescribe daily fish oil, typically in the form of cod liver oil, to pregnant moms for a well-absorbed, reliable EFA source.  This supplement is taken daily and should be continued while breastfeeding.  Small amounts of cod liver oil can even be given to your baby once solid foods are introduced.

Unfortunately not all brands of fish oil are created equal so it is important to ask your midwife or naturopath which brands are free of chemical processing and contamination.  Also be sure to check-in about dosage because this is individual for each pregnant woman depending on her diet and health history.

Here’s to healthy, nourished moms and babies!