Breastfeeding · Nutrition · Pregnancy

Foods to support baby’s brain development

Italian cuisine. Marinated sardines.

As a dietitian, I’m often asked by pregnant clients what foods they should eat to help their baby’s brain develop. The easy answer is to choose foods high in DHA, a type of omega-3 fat. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, it’s important to get enough DHA. This healthy fat can be your infant’s best friend even before they are born. It helps support your baby’s heart, brain, eyes and nerves to develop.

During the last three months of your pregnancy as well as the first year of baby’s life, your baby’s brain is growing at its peak. By the time they are a year old their brain has tripled in size. This means that your baby’s need for this must-have nutrient increases as well.

So, where will all this brain food come from?  You –by eating a healthy diet rich in DHA!

Top 3 tips to get DHA in your diet:

  1. Eat fatty fish that are low in methyl mercury –Fish is one of the many important protein foods in Canada’s Food Guide. Health Canada recommends that it should make up one quarter of your plate.

Safe to eat every day:

    • Salmon (Atlantic, Chum, Sockeye, Steelhead, Pink, canned)
    • Pollock, Alaska

Safe to eat to once a week:

    • Anchovies
    • Atlantic Mackerel
    • Atlantic Herring
    • Rainbow trout
    • Sardines
    • Halibut, Pacific

Read A Guide to Eating Fish, to get more information on choosing safe fish for you and your family. Most fish and shellfish contain small amounts of mercury that is safe to eat. Large fish, such as marlin and shark that live for a long time and eat other fish can contain higher mercury levels. Food sources of DHA, including fish, are a healthy choice for your whole family.

  1. Include foods with added DHA – Foods like eggs, milk and yogurt have added DHA. Check product labels for “added DHA” and include a variety of these enriched foods in your diet.
  1. Consider a fish oil supplement – If you don’t eat fish, fish oil supplements may be a choice for you. Talk to your dietitian or health care provider about the supplement you plan to take; they can help you read the label and check its safety. Avoid products made from fish liver, like cod liver oil. These products may be too high in a form of Vitamin A that is known to cause birth defects.

Feel free to share your DHA-rich recipes and ideas with us. Tell us how you and your family get your brain food!

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