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Health & Pregnancy

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Pregnant? Omega-3 Essential for Baby's Brain

Advanced Attention Span in Babies Whose Mothers Eat More Essential Fats

Not So Fishy Food Sources

While Colombo says he encourages his pregnant friends to add salmon to their diets, he adds that it is not yet clear how much DHA a woman needs during pregnancy. He hopes to answer this question in future studies with nutritionist and co-author Susan Carlson, PhD.

"What we can say right now is that authorities are concerned that pregnant women are not getting enough omega-3 in their diets," Carlson tells WebMD. "A number of observational studies suggests a link between DHA levels during pregnancy and a baby's behavioral performance."

But getting DHA from food sources can be problematic for pregnant women. The FDA recommends eating up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are low in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Mercury is less of an issue with salmon than tuna, but concerns have been raised about unsafe levels of the toxic chemical dioxin and polychlorinated byphenols (PCBs) in farmed salmon. PCBs have been linked to cancer and birth defects.

Nutritionist Barbara Levine, PhD, recommends that pregnant women get their DHA through algae-derived supplements, available in health food stores. Omega-3-fortified eggs are another good source of DHA.

Levine says studies suggest that women need about 250 mg of DHA daily during pregnancy, but very few are getting it.

"It is true that we don't get a lot of DHA in our diets," she says. "It took forever to get the message across about the importance of folic acid early in pregnancy, but now it is in our wheat products and most women get what they need. Now we are trying to get the message out about DHA."

SOURCES: Colombo et al., Child Development, July/August 2004, Vol. 75: pp. 1254-1267. John Colombo, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Kansas; associate director of cognitive neuroscience, Schiefelbusch Institute for Lifespan Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. Susan E. Carlson, PhD, Midwest Dairy Professor of Nutrition, University of Kansas Medical Center. Barbara Levine, PhD, associate professor of nutrition in medicine at Weill Medical College at Cornell University, New York, NY.

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