Supporting your body through pregnancy, as well as before and after is so important and can be a difficult thing to get right. Whatever step you’re on in your fertility journey having the advice of your OB-GYN, nutritional information and your friends and family can be a massive comfort. Hours of research could go into knowing what supplements to take to maximize your strength and help your baby grow and Omega-3 may be a key vitamin for fertility that you’re missing. It’s not strictly thought of as a pre and postnatal nutrient but the founders of women’s health startup Needed say it could be exactly what you need.

When you see Omega-3 you might automatically think of fatty fish, such as salmon or nuts and seeds. Some people take cod liver oil to boost their Omega-3 levels. It may improve bone health, support eye health and reduce the risk of heart disease but you may also really benefit from it if you’re pregnant, trying for a baby or just given birth. Omega-3 can be split into DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). “At the highest level, DHA fills in your cell membrane structure throughout the body. That builds a baby’s brain, skin and eyes. If a mom isn’t getting enough DHA from her diet it’ll come from her stores and her cells in order to build the baby,” says Ryan Woodbury, co-founder of Needed, “there’s research that shows a mom’s brain weight going down during pregnancy if her Omega-3 levels are low.”

Almost all brands of baby formula sold in the U.S are fortified with DHA. EPA is also important as it’s a precursor for a lot of hormonal processes such as controlling your inflammatory response. It can be crucial in recovering from pregnancy.  

When you start taking fertility supplements is totally at your discretion. You may be encouraged to starting taking folic acid, probiotics, or magnesium a few months before you start trying for a baby or when you conceive. “There’s so much you can do to make sure your body isn’t depleted going into pregnancy. Conception may be easier and it applies to men too,” says co-founder of Needed Julie Sawaya, “we would suggest taking a well-rounded prenatal vitamin including Omega-3 a year in advance. Now is a pretty great time to focus on your nutrition if you’re thinking of adding to your family in 2021.”

According to a study Omega-3 deficiency is a key issue around the world. While taking a supplement while trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy will help you and your baby maintain strength, it could also be a crucial part of recovering from birth. “A baby’s brain grows rapidly until the age of three and DHA is an important component of breast milk. Whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-Section there is some trauma in the body when giving birth, there are nutrients that can support tissue repair and healing,” says Woodbury.

Studies have highlighted that the caloric needs of people in later pregnancy and while breastfeeding increase in order to maintain your body’s supply of nutrients and a healthy milk supply. “Whether or not your breastfeeding, too often women will stop taking supplements when their baby is born and there’s a massive emphasis shift onto the child rather than how you can take care of yourself too,” says Sawaya.

It can be confusing to establish which supplements and vitamins to take before, during and after pregnancy. When it comes to the benefits of Omega-3 Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, from Yale School of Medicine says, “unfortunately we don’t have a definitive answer. There is a body of literature that says they absolutely help for fertility and pregnancy, with the implication for pregnancy of good brain health for the baby.” On their FAQs page regarding nutrition and pregnancy the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests women should eat at least two servings of fish or shellfish (about 8–12 ounces) per week before getting pregnant, while pregnant and while breastfeeding. “However there’s also data that says that the Omega-3’s do not help fertility,” says Dr. Minkin, “the data is controversial but women are not to be discouraged from taking in Omega-3’s. The question is do they really help or not regarding fertility.”

Needed has created an educational platform alongside the Omega-3 supplement they sell. They’re working to shape a conversation around women supporting and nourishing their bodies as a priority throughout pregnancy, before and after. Omega-3 may help you in the process of conception, while you’re pregnant and in recovery after giving birth. And Needed suggests the sooner you start to pay attention to your nutritional intake the better.