Hand Full of Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements

There are so many articles and supplements which overzealously throw around the word omega-3. However, do you really know what the benefits of this essential fatty acid are, especially after childbirth?

Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid because is it necessary for our bodies but we cannot produce it on our own. This means we must obtain it from external sources. There are two crucial sources of this essential fatty acid. The body requires both in order to function properly:

  1. EPA and DHA -  They are derived from oily fish
  2. ALA - It is derived from plant-based foods.

What Are EPA, DHA, and ALA?

Photo of Different Omega-3 Foods

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long-chain fatty acids and are considered to be highly unsaturated because they structurally contain 5 to 6 double bonds. These acids are abundant in cold water fish and algae. The body converts DHA and EPA into a hormone called prostaglandins which helps to regulate healthy cardiovascular function and cell activity.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are short-chain fatty acids found in plant sources such as seeds and nuts. While ALA is a very important nutrient, it is not as potent as EPA and DHA. You would need to consume a lot of seeds and nuts in order to get the same benefits as you would from fish.

Bottom Line:

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which needs to be derived from food sources since the body is unable to produce it. Long chain omega acids are comprised of essential building blocks called eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid which are found in cold water oily fish. Short chain omega acids such as ALA are found in plant-based sources such as nuts and seeds, however, they are not as potent and do not have as many benefits as EPA and DHA.

Why is Omega 3 Important While Breastfeeding?

Because an infant gets most of its nutrients from its mother's milk, the quality of the milk is extremely important. While medical experts recommend breast milk over formula, this is assuming the mother is eating a healthy diet. For a nursing mom, it is essential to take omega-3 supplements or eat a healthy serving of oily fish once or twice a week. This will provide an infant’s brain and immune system with all the nutrients it needs in order to develop and function properly.

The brain is the fattiest organ in the body because it comprises of over 60% of DHA. DHA is also found in neurons, membranes and the protective layer of the brain. In addition, research has shown that a fatty acid deficiency in infants can lead to language development problems. 

Bottom Line:

It is essential to ensure that you get enough fatty acids especially when you are breastfeeding. The fatty material in the brain is comprised of docosahexaenoic acid and therefore it is crucial that you maintain these levels in order to decrease your child's risk of developing language disorders.

Docosahexaenoic Acid And Postpartum Depression

Mom and Baby Smiling at Camera

Docosahexaenoic Acid can help you lower the risk of developing postpartum depression after child birth. There are many tricks and helpful ways to beat the baby blues but some studies have shown that depression has been linked to low levels of docosahexaenoic acid. It is essential to replenish these levels in order to produce higher levels of serotonin in the brain which helps to promote a happy and positive mood.

Bottom Line:

Studies show that low levels of docosahexaenoic acid are directly linked to depression. Docosahexaenoic Acid helps to increase serotonin levels which promotes a happy and positive mood.

What Are The Other Benefits Of Omega-3?

There are no shortage of benefits when it comes to these essential fatty acids. Including them in your family's diet can significantly improve your heart, brain and immune system.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Lowering Triglyceride Levels

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood which is used to produce energy. When there is an excess of triglycerides, the body stores them in the fat cells which increases the risk of heart disease.  Studies have shown that fish oil can effectively lower these levels.

  • Decreases The Risk Of Alzheimer’s Disease

As mentioned previously, essential fatty acids make up almost 60% of the brain and without them, you are exposed to several risks, one being Alzheimer's disease. Studies have shown that by increasing your intake of fish oil, you can protect your brain from cognitive decline and brain shrinkage.

Heart and Stethoscope
  • Decreases The Risk Of Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association, eating fish high in omega-3 can possibly reduce the risk of heart disease because it prevents plaque from building up on the artery walls. It also helps to decrease the risk of arrhythmias, an irregular heartbeat which could lead to death.

Bottom Line:

These essential fatty acids have a variety of benefits which help promote a healthier quality of life. Studies show that fish oil can effectively help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's. It also helps to lower triglycerides which is also directly linked to heart disease.

What Foods To Include In Your Diet?

Earlier on we mentioned fish and plant source foods are a great way to get your daily intake of essential fatty acids. Taking additional fish oil supplements can also help if you do not enjoy the taste of fish. However, make sure that you don't go overboard when including fish in to your diet, opt for eating it no more than once or twice a week.

Here is a list of a few omega 3 rich foods:

Fresh Salmon, Tuna and Mackerel
  • Salmon 
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Flaxseeds
  • Soybeans
  • Walnuts
  • Kale
  • Spinach

Our Final Take Home Message

As mothers, we strive to provide the optimal care and nutrition to ensure our infants develop properly. Omega-3 is essential when breastfeeding because it plays a crucial role in developing and protecting healthy brain function. It also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's which means that you have longer, happier, and healthier years to spend and cherish with your child.

Researched and written by experts, brought to you by our team at Mommy Authority.

Kari is a main contributing writer for MommyAuthority and has written for many other outlets regarding diet, nutrition and psychology. After becoming a mom herself, her new found passion, relating to motherhood, is now incorporated in her research and writings.