Omega-3 Intake During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

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Pregnant Woman and Child


Dr Fiona Barry, PhD explains why Omega-3 intake is crucial during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Discover benefits for foetal development and safe sources and recommended dosages.


Introduction to Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are forms of Omega-3 fatty acids that have been associated with a large range of health benefits, amongst which are foetal development, brain, and heart function.


Dietary Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These essential fatty acids need to be consumed in our daily diet as our body is unable to manufacture them. Foods rich in Omega-3 include oily fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. However, the current Western diet favours the consumption of foods which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids, but low in Omega-3, resulting in people becoming depleted in Omega-3.


The Need for Omega-3 During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

This imbalance becomes more evident during times in our life when we have an increased requirement for Omega-3, in particular, pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Supplementation during these times can be extremely beneficial to help us reach our daily requirement.


Importance of Omega-3 in Pregnancy

Increased amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids are required during pregnancy as they are essential for both the mother and the developing baby. These fatty acids play important roles in the development of the baby's brain and vision as well as in supporting the mother's overall health during this time.


Recommended Omega-3 Intake During Pregnancy

The EFSA recommends a weekly intake of 1,750mg of EPA and DHA for non-pregnant individuals¹, equating to 250mg per day and this can be achieved by consuming 8 ounces of fatty fish per week. During pregnancy however, the demand for Omega-3 fatty acids increases as the baby develops. Studies have shown that increased consumption of DHA during pregnancy is important for optimal foetal development². Therefore, it is advised that pregnant women take an additional 700-1400mg of DHA weekly, on top of this baseline recommendation³.


Omega-3 Benefits for Breastfeeding Mothers

Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for breastfeeding mothers, as they play a role in the brain and eye development of the breastfed infants as well as in supporting the mother's overall health and well-being during the postpartum period. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, are important for the baby's brain and eye development during breastfeeding, just as they are during pregnancy.


Postpartum Benefits of Omega-3 for Mothers

In addition to benefiting the baby, Omega-3 fatty acids can also benefit the mother during the postpartum period, supporting the mother's brain, vision, and heart health.


Safe Sources of Omega-3 for Pregnant and Lactating Women

While it is important to increase Omega-3 consumption during pregnancy and lactation, it is also important to be mindful of the sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant and lactating women should aim to consume Omega-3 fatty acids from sources that are low in mercury, such as small, oily fish and fish oil supplements.


Ensuring Adequate Omega-3 Intake

Overall, Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in supporting the health and development of both the mother and baby during pregnancy and lactation, making it important to ensure an adequate intake during this time.


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*The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 200mg of DHA in addition to the recommended daily intake of 250mg DHA & EPA




  1.  EFSA sets European dietary reference values for nutrient intakes | EFSA ( 
  2. Swanson, D., Block, R. and Mousa, S.A. (2012) Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: Health benefits throughout life, Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). Available at:,major%20coronary%20events%2C%20and%20anticoagulation 
  3. D.N. Christifano, S.A. Crawford, G. Lee, A.R. Brown, J.T. Camargo, E.H. Kerling, B.J. Gajewski, C.J. Valentine, K.M. Gustafson, E.A. DeFranco, S.E. Carlson (2023) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake estimated from a 7-question survey identifies pregnancies most likely to benefit from high-dose DHA Supplementation. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, Volume 53, Pages 93-99, February 2023. 



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