More and more as science discovers the benefits of omega 3 essential fatty acids to health and to the development of the growing fetus, baby and infant, we will see a continuation of the recent trend towards DHA supplementation of foods. It is now possible to buy DHA infant formula and a range of other baby foods supplemented with DHA including baby cereal with DHA.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is the most important of the omega 3 fatty acids that are now known to be so important to our health. Along with EPA DHA is essential to so many aspects of our brain and heart health and it is now becoming established that an adequate supply of it to the growing fetus and to the baby once born is essential for optimum infant development.
But it’s another matter to decide whether using DHA infant formula is a good idea or not. However a recent event gives us a clue. This was a lecture by a representative of a baby food manufacturer who are making a new DHA baby formula. The lecture included some interesting information, particularly that residents of the US and Canada have some of the lowest levels of Omega 3 fats of any country in the world. This is due to our low level of fish intake.
Also of interest was the statement made that established benefits to infants and babies from an adequate supply of Omega 3 fats included better “cognitive development, improved visual acuity, memory retention and ability to communicate and solve problems as well as psychomotor development”. From that statement you can see the importance of having an adequate supply of Omega 3 essential fatty acids available to the fetus and baby.
However there is another powerful reason to be sceptical about the benefits of DHA infant formula. For a wide range of reasons breastfeeding is much better for the health of the developing baby than using infant formula. If the mothers supply of Docosahexaenoic Acid is adequate then this becomes available to the baby through her milk. If the mother has enough DHA then the baby will also get enough.
Of course this relies on an adequate supply of Omega 3 fatty acids to the mother through her diet.
It is currently not clear what benefits there are from using DHA in infant formula. And in fact the representative of the infant formula company noted that “No infant formula can ever substitute breast milk. It will take years before anybody can tell us how to add the hormones in breast milk to infant formula”.
So it would seem that it is far too early to conclude that we should all be feeding DHA baby formula to our babies. Unless there is a powerful reason to avoid breastfeeding our babies will get adequate supplies of DHA through the mother’s milk provided the mother has an adequate supply.
Of course it is always possible to get an adequate supply of Omega 3 fats in our diet from increasing the amount of oily fish we eat. However fish is very expensive and is generally recognized as being contaminated with a range of contaminants like mercury.
The best DHA supplements are entirely clean and are a very cost-effective way of getting an adequate daily supply of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Note that not all DHA supplements are good value or good supplements.