The period following birth is called the “postpartum” stage. During this important period, mothers typically feed their babies breast milk. Most doctors recommend breastfeeding because a mother’s milk (when a good diet is maintained) contains all the important nutrients that a baby needs to develop healthily, including omega-3 fatty acids, as well as crucial immune system antibodies to ward off pathogens. For this reason, proper nutrition for the mother in the postpartum stage is absolutely essential.
Breastfeeding women should be sure to include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, sometimes abbreviated as simply “omegas.” Omegas for breastfeeding contribute in important ways to your baby’s growth. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind omegas for breastfeeding and simple ways to include them in your diet during the postpartum phase.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
The three most common varieties of omega-3 fatty acids for humans are:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA is primarily found in plants while EPA and DHA come from fish. Omega-3s in the form of ALA are difficult for the body to effectively digest and utilize, so the fish-sourced EPA and DHA alternatives are generally superior for nutrition.
According to WebMD, omega-3s for adults can lower blood pressure, reduce harmful cholesterol, tamp down inflammation and exert a number of other beneficial effects.
For babies, omega-3s are arguably even more important. Because infants’ minds and bodies are rapidly developing in the postpartum period, optimal nutrition at this stage is critical.
Here is what the science says about the importance of omega-3s for babies’ development.
Omegas for Breastfeeding Result in Fewer Allergies for Babies
According to one study on omega-3 supplementation during lactation, the babies of women who were administered omega-3 oils sourced from fish exhibited lower rates of allergies. Although the correlation is clear, the researchers note that there remains no explanation of why or how omega-3s reduce the incidence of allergies in breastfed babies.
Omegas for Breastfeeding May Reduce Behavioral Disorders
The same study referenced above, which found that higher omega-3 levels correspond to fewer allergies in babies, also found that babies who received higher nutritional amounts of omega-3s in infancy were less likely to develop behavioral disorders later in life. Similar studies have also concluded a negative correlation between omegas for breastfeeding and mental health disorders.
Currently, in the United States and throughout the West, we are in the midst of a full-blown mental health epidemic that has smoldered for decades. Giving your baby the best chance for a lifetime of good mental health starts with the right nutrition in infancy, including, as the evidence shows, omega-3s.
How to Increase Concentrations of Beneficial Omega-3s in Your Breastmilk
Now that we know more about the benefits of omega-3s for infants’ development, the question becomes: How can I maximize the omega-3 content of my breastmilk?
A high-quality fish oil supplement is an excellent way to naturally up your omega-3 saturations in breast milk. Fish oil compounds are readily available at most drugstores and supermarkets, so you can just add it to the shopping list.
Include More Fish in Your Diet
Fatty fish contain a number of other beneficial nutrients and compounds besides omega-3, so they make a good addition to your postpartum diet. However, you should remain cognizant of the fact that many fish are contaminated with unhealthy levels of heavy metals that threaten health. Babies are even more susceptible than adults to negative health consequences of the mercury commonly found in fish.
Therefore, you should limit your fish intake to two to three servings per week.
Every mother wants her baby to benefit from the healthiest breast milk that they can produce. A healthy diet is the most important factor in the makeup of breast milk. For the important benefits they confer to developing infants, the omega-3s found primarily in fish and fish oil supplements are crucial to include in your diet while breastfeeding.
Related Content: The Role of Protein During Pregnancy
Most women recognize that the foods they eat play a huge part in helping their child to grow in the uterus. The quality and composition of foods eaten during pregnancy is just as important as the amount of food eaten. Protein is particularly useful because it helps to form new cells and build the body of the fetus.