The ABCs of DHA - and why it's important for milestone development
Chances are, you've heard about DHA. Perhaps you know quite a bit about this important fatty acid. Or maybe you've simply noticed it on a label or a can of formula.
What exactly is DHA? DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that's a building block for your baby's brain and eyes. The name DHA is the scientific shorthand for docosahexaenoic acid. While many people take supplements, DHA occurs naturally in some foods such as salmon, sardines and fortified eggs.
Why is DHA so important?
DHA supports brain, eye and nervous system development as a baby develops - in the womb and during the all-important first few years of life.
Once your baby is born - and through the first two years of life - his brain develops more rapidly than it ever will again. In fact, the brain grows 175% in the first year of life. That's why many experts believe it's important for babies to receive enough DHA during this critical time of brain development.
Where can your baby get DHA?
While in utero, your baby receives DHA from you. If you're breastfeeding, it's delivered in your breast milk. So, it's important to make an effort to eat more fatty fish and other foods rich in omega-3s. A DHA supplement like Enfamil Expecta also helps provide the recommended amount during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. As you would expect, the greater your intake of DHA, the higher the concentration found in your breast milk.
If you're formula feeding, all Enfamil formulas, including those tailored for feeding issues, have DHA to help promote brain and eye development at every stage. When choosing a formula, be sure to select one that has DHA.
How does DHA help your baby reach developmental milestones?
There are so many milestones to achieve during your baby's first year. As he grows, his cognitive, motor, communication and social skills are continually developing, too. From smiling and sitting up to standing and walking, the first years of life are amazing.
Clinical studies show that DHA improves cognitive development. This is one of the areas pediatricians check for most in order to be sure your baby is reaching the milestones he should.
There's even more good news.
In addition to helping babies develop, DHA also helps support immune system development and function. Emerging data also shows a link between omega-3 fatty acids and respiratory health.
In summary, if you're breastfeeding, be sure your diet provides enough DHA - and if you're in doubt, take a DHA supplement. If you're formula feeding, choose a formula like Enfamil that has the nutrients your baby needs, and has DHA.
While DHA is important for brain development, so are the activities you do with your baby.
Yes, the right nutrition is important, but there are also activities you can initiate to help your baby develop his cognitive, motor, social and communication skills. Use these as a guide and make up new ones as your baby grows.
Here are a few to get started:
Cognitive skills are thinking skills like understanding, problem solving and remembering.
Read right from the start. While language is a long way off, newborns enjoy looking at black and white pictures first and then at bright colors. Read simple stories out loud or hold board books in front of your baby and let him look at the pictures. Before long, the books will hold his interest and help him learn to think.
Give him the power. Babies like to see the effects of their actions. Between 4 and 7 months, they will begin to drop things just to see what happens As your baby gets older, give him simple toys that he can operate by pushing a button to hear music or turning a dial to see something.
Motor skills involve large groups of muscles your baby will eventually use to sit, roll, crawl, stand and walk.
Put her on his tummy. Until your baby reaches 3 months, put her on her tummy when he's awake and alert for just a few minutes. Hold a toy in front of her or make a funny noise to get her to look at you. This encourages her to develop head control and it's one of the most important activities you can do with your baby. It also helps strengthen the neck, arm and leg muscles. Be sure to stay close by and never leave your baby alone in this position.
Create a baby maze. Once your baby is crawling, arrange some of your pillows, boxes and couch cushions in a carpeted area and encourage your baby to crawl through them. Again, stay close by because he could get stuck, but this activity helps him learn to maneuver.
Communication skills begin with your baby's first cry. Although you probably think it's mostly about learning to talk, your baby also communicates with her body.
Keep talking. Long before your baby can talk, she learns to understand. And the sound of your voice is her favorite sound in the world. Studies show that babies can identify the voice of their mom from another room at just a month old. When you talk to her regularly, you're not just teaching her, you're making her happy.
Copy your baby. You might not realize that he's been copying your voice and your movements since he was born. Once he starts cooing, babbling or making sounds, repeat them back to him and you'll start a game of repetition that helps him learn to communicate.
Social skills are important right from the beginning and become more important as your baby grows. They include working with others, socializing, forming relationships and being sensitive to others.
Celebrate her individuality. Surely, every baby is different and once you see your baby's inherent personality, try and nurture it and work along with her tendencies. A quiet baby may need to gently be brought into busy situations and an outgoing one might need to be around others on a regular basis.
Have fun with your features. As your baby gets older, start pointing out your facial features, as well as his. Do this face to face or try sitting in front of a mirror. By repeating words such as eyes, nose, mouth, hair and ears, you'll teach him the words he'll eventually use - and have fun in the process.