A plant-based diet and pregnancy or breastfeeding can go together like peanut butter and chocolate (and if you’re anything like me, you LOVE that combination too!). However, there are some key nutrients to focus on during these periods of a woman’s life – one of which being omega-3 fatty acids.
Before we get there, let me just say that because you are reading this and because you are Googling all the things you need to know about your diet during pregnancy or while breastfeeding means that you are trying to do the best darn thing for you and baby and THAT fact should be applauded in and of itself.
Secondly, most of us vegans are plant-based prior to pregnancy for whatever reason (ethical, environment, health, etc) and there’s no reason that has to stop with baby on board. Your relatives/friends/unknowing health care providers may think differently as sometimes there’s a misconception that by being vegan is equivalent to malnutrition. This is of course not the case (at all) but consuming a vegan diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding does require a few more check boxes to cross off for optimal nutrition.
What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
When we’re talking about omega-3 fatty essential fatty acids, know that they are essential for a reason. Your body needs them and cannot produce them on its own, so you’ll need to consume them through your diet.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA alpha-linolenic acid. The DHA and EPA essential fatty acids are what we find primarily in fish and fish oil only because they consume through the algae and it travels along the food chain. ALA is what we find in foods like flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds. When you consume ALA omega-3 fatty acids, the body must convert them into DHA and EPA for utilization.
Well, why do you need omega-3 fatty acids in the first place during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Omega-3 fatty acids help support the brain, heart, central nervous system, and the overall inflammation response. EPA and DHA work together in the body but DHA has more of a role in brain and eye development as well as support the overall central nervous system both while in the womb and once born. The thing is, ALA needs to be converted to EPA or DHA for utilization and that process is still somewhat unclear. What is clear is that vegan or vegetarian pregnant and breastfeeding moms need omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
You may be wondering, “what can I get DHA and EPA from without eating fish or taking a fish oil?” Algae-derived omega-3 fatty acids my friends. Algae is a rich source of DHA perfect for supporting brain development and overall growth in babies with vegan or vegatarian moms.
So how many omega-3 fatty acids do you need during your vegan pregnancy or breastfeeding journey?
Great question! So happy you asked 😉
The National Institutes of Health Recommends 650 mg of omega-3 fatty acids with at least 300 mg of that coming from DHA. This is important to note because you could be eating a lot of flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts, or chia seeds and think you are consuming adequate omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy or while breastfeeding but because those are ALA sources of omega-3s you may be falling short.
I recommend an omega-3 supplement to every vegan/vegetarian pregnant or breastfeeding mom I work with because adequate DHA is not readily found in a vegan/vegetarian diet. Not all vegan omega supplement is created equal though and I recommend looking for one that has at least 300 mg of DHA to help meet your needs while growing and feeding a little one.
Vegan Omega-3 Supplements to Consider While Pregnant/Breastfeeding
Notes to consider:
- A lot of vegan and vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids have rosemary extract which is not recommended to consume during pregnancy. So, if you already have one at home you’re using, just double check that it doesn’t contain rosemary extract.
- Many plant-based omega-3 supplements contain carrageenan if this is a concern to you.
- Again, be sure that your omega-3 supplement contains at least 300 mg of DHA for pregnancy and while breastfeeding to support healthy brain development in your baby.
- This is not an extensive list but rather a starting place guide of some of the easier to find plant-based DHA supplements.
Vegan/Vegetarian Omega-3 Supplement Brands to consider:
Plant-based pregnancies and breastfeeding journeys can be just as healthy as those journeys with mothers consuming animal products. However, if you are a vegan/vegetarian lactating momma or mom to be, it’s imperative to consume adequate DHA omega-3 fatty acids for your baby’s growth and development. Since omega-3’s are not readily available in a plant-based diet, plan on supplementing with algae based supplements with at least 300 mg DHA in accordance with the National Institutes of Health recommendation for pregnant and breastfeeding women. It’s also important to consume an additional 350 mg of omega-3 fatty acids through EPA and ALA sources. Keep in mind that our bodies do not produce omega-3’s and we must consume them orally so you may want to consider continuing a plant-based omega-3 supplement after pregnancy or your breastfeeding journey.
If you liked this, you may find this article helpful too: Kombucha in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Is it safe?
If you have any questions or you found this plant-based omega-3 article for pregnant and breastfeeding moms helpful, comment below and let me know! As a plant-based dietitian, it’s my goal to help you feel good in your body and I’m here if you have questions. 🙂