Healthier Breastfeeding with Vegan Omega-3

April 23, 2020

Healthier Breastfeeding with Vegan Omega-3

It is often said that pregnant women “eat for two”, referring to their appetites and often uncontrollable cravings during pregnancy. Once the baby is born and mothers commence the breastfeeding phase, there are also recommendations regarding maternal nutrition, but mostly in terms of foods to support proper lactation, as well as those to avoid. However, mothers indeed do eat for two, and their nutritional choices influence much more than their own appetites and the quality of milk they produce for the baby.

Without a doubt, keeping nutrients optimized during pregnancy, as well as during breastfeeding, is pivotal - and not only when it comes to the health of both mother and child. Scientific evidence suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids in the body are crucial for infant development, and in today’s article, we’re focusing on each of them.

However, before we dive into the science, we’d like to acknowledge that maternal nutrition is surrounded by many diverging opinions and what works for one mother isn’t necessarily right for another. Also, not all women choose to breastfeed so if breastfeeding doesn’t apply to you, then stop here. Most of all, while essential Omega-3 nutrients are beneficial for everyone, nutrition during maternity should be first and foremost informed by your health care professional, so we advise you to start with their expertise before making any supplement decisions. So, let’s dive in.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Brief Introduction

Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the category of some of the most thoroughly investigated nutrients, which have been shown to exhibit numerous health benefits - and not only in female health and child development. One of the most talked-about benefits regards mental health, as omega-3 supplementation has been shown to ease the symptoms of anxiety and depressive states. Furthermore, as DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), a fatty acid belonging to the group of omega-3s, can be found in the very structure of the eye’s retina, supplementing with omega-3s appears to promote eye health.

It is highly probable that you’ve heard about omega-3 fatty acids in the context of optimal cardiovascular health. According to a review of the effect of omega-3s on the cardiovascular system, these fatty acids have been found to positively influence numerous aspects in this area - lipid profile, cytokine cascade, antioxidant balance, to name a few.

Yet another benefit of omega-3 fats related to heart health is its anti-inflammatory effect. When it comes to inflammation, omega-3s appear to limit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules and substances, such as cytokines. Finally, these fats have demonstrated great potential in skin health, especially when it comes to managing skin disorders such as acne.

Maternal Nutrition during Pregnancy

Maternal Nutrition During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the mother’s diet maps and shapes fetal development. A study focused on diet in pregnancy and lactation suggests that the selection of micronutrients and macronutrients during pregnancy impacts both how healthy the mother’s pregnancy is and the quality of milk later on.

Another study, focused on the significant role of omega-3 acids during pregnancy and lactation suggests that supplementing with 200 mg omega-3 DHA a day appears to positively influence a child’s IQ scores, brain development, social skills, and motor coordination. Furthermore, the same study has recognized a strong dependence of the content of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) in mature breast milk on the maternal levels of these fatty acids in the third trimester of pregnancy.

The Impact of Omega-3 Levels on Milk Composition & Child Development

How important is breastfeeding and why is it highly encouraged? According to a study on the impact of perinatal dietary supplementation, breastfeeding has been shown to heavily influence not only the health of fetuses and newborns, but adults as well. Namely, the study emphasizes the possibility of the root of numerous adult conditions being detected precisely in imbalanced infant nutrition.

Furthermore, this study also highlights the role of omega-3 fatty acids (PUFAs), which cannot be naturally manufactured in the human body, in the brain development of children. According to this study, the cognitive development of an infant largely depends upon maternal dietary intake, which has also been found to play a significant role in the development of metabolic syndrome later in life. The importance of these fatty acids in cognitive development stems from their impact on the fluidity and stability of the neuron membranes, as well as their role in tissue differentiation and gene expression.

As a study on cytokines and maternal omega-3 supplementation suggests, breastfeeding is a highly sensitive, vulnerable state, calling for a specific diet routine encompassing all the necessary nutrients. One of the many reasons for increased omega-3 intake during breastfeeding is that DHA levels appear to decrease during pregnancy and the lactation period - especially if this stage is long.

The Role of DHA

Optimal DHA consumption seems to be highly beneficial for the mother, but especially for the child, since DHA fatty acid has been found to play a pivotal role in the maturation and function of the immune system. Given that decreased DHA levels have been associated with a limited intake of omega-3 fatty acids, there is a definite requirement of a quality omega-3 fatty acids source during both the pregnancy and the lactation phases.

Not surprisingly, a study conducted by Y. Rodriguez-Santana concludes that the maternal consumption of omega-3s is bound to shape the immunological and neurological development of the fetus and the newborn, as well as the lipid composition of breast milk.

Additionally, this study has recognized the pivotal role of DHA levels in the neurodevelopment and visual development in infants. According to this study, the pronounced role of DHA in neural development relies on the fact that positive outcomes in this field have been associated with higher levels of DHA in the brain and plasma of breastfed infants.

As well, breast milk composition has also been associated with the development of allergies in infants, a study conducted by Warstedt, K. et al. finds. The study suggests that there was a lower chance of the development of IgE-associated diseases (allergies included) in children at 2 years of life - if mothers supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation. What’s more, statistics show that none of the children consuming maternal milk that contains more than 0.83 mol% EPA or 1.5 mol% DHA develop IgE-associated allergies. In addition, a study on marine oils confirmed the obvious link between omega-3 supplementation and a lesser chance of allergy development in those infants.

Vegetarian & Vegan Diets during Breastfeeding

A nutritional fact highlighted in the study conducted by Karcz K. et al. concerns a significant diet change that has been regarded as highly beneficial for pregnant women. Switching to a vegetarian diet during pregnancy and the breastfeeding period has been a preference of many women due to the fact that they tend to be faced with numerous nutritional deficiencies. According to this study, the requirements for numerous nutrients are even more emphasized in the delicate period of fetus and infant development. These nutrients include protein, zinc, iron, and of course - omega-3 fatty acids.

On the other hand, a study conducted by L. Baroni and colleagues suggests vegan nutrition as a preferable alternative to both omnivore and vegetarian diets in the pregnancy and lactation periods. According to this study, a plant-based diet has been recognized as suitable in pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and later in life given its well-planned energy requirements regarding protein, fiber, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, as well as omega-3s. What is particularly pronounced in this study is the dietary requirement of omega-3s for all breastfeeding women, regardless of their diet choice, which stands at 100-200 mg of DHA on a daily basis. That being said, a vegan alternative to a majority of omega-3 supplements on the market which are fish-based is an algae-based omega-3 supplement.

While the benefits of these two diet regimes are undeniable, according to the aforementioned study, vegetarian and vegan women tend to have 0.1% or less DHA in their milk fat, which is a serious call for DHA-rich omega-3 supplementation. Increasing DHA levels through diet has been shown to increase the DHA levels in the embryonic brain, as well as in the infant brain during breastfeeding.

In summary, at the start of pregnancy, all the way through the breastfeeding period, a mother’s nutrition appears to be one of the main prerequisites for the healthy development of a fetus and an infant. However, the impact of maternal nutrition and omega-3 intake isn’t limited to these two phases of a child’s development, as it also influences the possibility of health issues emerging later in life. Clearly, obtaining an optimal amount of omega-3s is one of the essential nutritional goals during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Interested in more all-natural supplements? Check out our full line of premium-quality nutrients in our online store.

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Article References:

  1. Karcz K, Królak-Olejnik B, Paluszyńska D. [Vegetarian diet in pregnancy and lactation - safety and rules of balancing meal plan in the aspect of optimal fetal and infant development]. Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski : Organ Polskiego Towarzystwa Lekarskiego. 2019 Jan;46(271):45-50.
  2. Manta-Vogli, P. D., Schulpis, K. H., Dotsikas, Y., & Loukas, Y. L. (2019). The significant role of carnitine and fatty acids during pregnancy, lactation and perinatal period. Nutritional support in specific groups of pregnant women. Clinical Nutrition. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2019.10.025
  3. Tonini, C., Schiavi, S., Macca, F., Segatto, M., Trezza, V., & Pallottini, V. (2020). Long-lasting impact of perinatal dietary supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids on mevalonate pathway: potential role on neuron trophism in male offspring hippocampal formation. Nutritional Neuroscience, 1-12. doi: 10.1080/1028415x.2020.1724452
  4. Rodriguez-Santana, Y., & Peña-Quintana, L. (2019). Cytokines and Maternal Omega-3 LCPUFAs Supplementation. Maternal And Child Health Matters Around The World [Working Title]. doi: 10.5772/intechopen.86402
  5. Perrin, M. T., Pawlak, R., Dean, L. L., Christis, A., & Friend, L. (2018). A cross-sectional study of fatty acids and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in human milk from lactating women following vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore diets. European Journal of Nutrition. doi:10.1007/s00394-018-1793-z
  6. Warstedt, K., Furuhjelm, C., Fälth-Magnusson, K., Fagerås, M., & Duchén, K. (2016). High levels of omega-3 fatty acids in milk from omega-3 fatty acid-supplemented mothers are related to less immunoglobulin E-associated disease in infancy. Acta Paediatrica, 105(11), 1337–1347. doi:10.1111/apa.13395
  7. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Marine Oils. [Updated 2020 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501898/
  8. Baroni L, Goggi S, Battaglino R, Berveglieri M, Fasan I, Filippin D, Griffith P, Rizzo G, Tomasini C, Tosatti MA, Battino MA. Vegan Nutrition for Mothers and Children: Practical Tools for Healthcare Providers. Nutrients. 2019; 11(1):5.




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