Within four days after delivery, the mother’s tissue demands for nutrients such as the omega-3s are several times those of the pregnant uterus before term. In fact, recent research confirms that 700 to 800 mg of DHA is taken up by the breast milk in the first three months postpartum, and the mother supplementing in the second half of pregnancy results in increased DHA and EPA levels in breast milk.22 This finding is significant regarding the health benefits for the infant. At this time, no studies have reported on the effect of omega-3s on the quantity of milk or the duration of breast-feeding. If the mother is not consuming enough DHA, then deficiencies in DHA may be especially apparent postpartum. DHA status declines during pregnancy, especially during multiple pregnancies, with levels normalizing slowly, probably within one year postpartum. In fact, it can take up to four years to replace the DHA that is transferred to the fetus during pregnancy. This is why it is imperative that pregnant women supplement with fish oil. I recommend at least 1,000 mg of EPA + DHA combined.
A mother’s DHA needs to remain high not only during pregnancy but also during lactation. Research finds women with low levels of DHA may be at an increased risk of developing a condition known as postpartum blues, which has been shown to progressively worsen with each successive pregnancy.
Approximately 15 to 20 percent of women who give birth in the United States develop postpartum depression. Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, director of the Mother and Child Foundation of the National Institutes of Health, has studied the effects of fish consumption and risk of postpartum depression. He concluded that countries with higher fish consumption, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Chile, had the lowest levels of postpartum depression, whereas countries with the lowest fish consumption (South Africa, Germany, and Saudi Arabia) had the highest rates of postpartum depression.