More and more you can find DHA baby foods, including DHA infant formula. But should you be using it?

If you’re familiar with the benefits of Omega 3 essential fatty acids you may well have come across a range of foods that are supplemented with DHA. An example of this is DHA infant formula . Now that the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids to the fetus and developing infants are established it is possible to buy a range of baby products which include DHA. It’s even possible to buy baby cereal with DHA.

Many well known baby foods are fortified with DHA, (Docosahexaenoic Acid). It is now common to find DHA in baby formula because the baby food industry is, of course, quick to respond to consumer demand. Expect to see more baby foods with DHA fortification.

But what are the benefits of DHA infant formula and should you be using DHA fortified baby foods?

This question was recently addressed in a lecture given by Peter Williat, a child psychologist from the University of Dundee. It was a lecture to a group of mainly doctors, pharmacists and nutritionists given on behalf of SMA Nutritional, an infant formula manufactured and sold by Wyett Nutrition.DHA Infant Formula

This lecture was to mark an improvement in this brand of baby formula. DHA is now included in this infant formula. It was interesting to note that Mr. Williat cited some of the research relating to DHA and baby and infant development. Amongst these benefits to child development, according to Mr. Williat, were improvements in “cognitive development, improved visual acuity, memory retention and ability to communicate and solve problems as well as psychomotor development”.

He also noted a number of interesting facts, including that studies have shown that DHA levels differ wildly amongst populations of different countries and that some of the lowest levels of DHA are in residents of the US and Canada.

Mr. Williat advised that pregnant women and nursing mothers get an adequate supply of DHA in their diet so that these benefits can be passed on to the infant through breastfeeding. If the mother’s intake of DHA is adequate then the DHA is present in adequate quantities for the baby in her milk.

If the mother’s intake of DHA is inadequate this obviously means that the supply of DHA to the baby or infant will also be inadequate.

As he was promoting a new baby formula with DHA you would expect him to promote the benefits of DHA baby formula, however in fact when pressed on the benefits of DHA infant formulas compared to the benefits of breastfeeding he said “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”.

Of course breastfeeding is superior to feeding the baby or infant with formula for many other reasons as well however it now seems that even the manufacturers of DHA baby formula, through their representatives, admit that breastfeeding is superior.

However this does rely on the mother getting adequate supplies of DHA in her diet and as we previously noted the average American mother has very low levels of DHA. This is a result of a very low consumption of fish.

Whilst eating one or two meals of oily fish a week is recommended that too has its problems. Only certain types of fish have adequate levels of DHA, particularly oily fish. And fish is usually very expensive and out of the reach of some families, particularly families with a new baby. There is a further problem as well.

It is now well known that fish is generally contaminated with various toxins such as mercury, PCBs, pesticides and other heavy metals, and pregnant and nursing women have to consider the health of their babies when eating possibly contaminated fish, as any toxins could be passed on to the baby.

Then of course there are Omega3 supplements. The best of these, though not all, are free of contaminants and can be safely taken daily at a lower cost than buying fresh fish.

The supplementation of baby and infant foods with DHA will continue, however it seems clear that pregnant women and nursing mothers should be taking some form of DHA supplementation to the benefit of their developing infants and that they should be breastfeeding rather than using DHA infant formula. But it is important that the mother herself have adequate levels of DHA, both for her own health and that of her child.

Virtually all medical professionals advise young mothers that breastfeeding is better than bottlefeeding using formula, for a range of reasons. Of course that doesn’t mean that young mothers can all breastfeed, there are other issues to be considered as well.

However, where possible, breastfeeding is better. The American Academy of Paediatrics says that infants should be breastfed for the first 6 months of life exclusively.

Breastfeeding, or more specifically breastmilk, has constituents which help the baby beyond merely providing nutrients. Breastmilk can help prevent infections as well as allergies and also chronic health conditions.

Of course there are all sorts of issues to think about when mothers are considering how best to feed their babies, and if you’re interested in finding out more about breastfeeding compared to bottle feeding generally you can do so right here.

And this doesn’t address the issue of how much DHA is found in many fortified foods. Not much according to some. But that’s an issue for another day.

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