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Omega 3 fatty acids, like omega 6 fatty acids, are essential fatty acids, that is, they cannot be manufactured by the human body. Omega 3s are present in all cells of the body, but there is a high concentration at the brain and eye level, for this reason, it is necessary that the infant receives the amount of these fats daily. While breastfeeding, if the mother eats a balanced diet and consumes an omega 3 DHA supplement, the amount of this fat that breast milk will contain will be sufficient to promote proper growth and development of the infant.
The amount and composition of breast milk varies throughout the days, being 50 ml on the first day, 500 ml on the fifth day and about 750 ml in the third month of the baby's life. Milk production depends largely on the suckling stimulus of the infant, so that mothers of twins produce more milk, being able to breastfeed both children perfectly.
If there is maternal malnutrition, the volume of secreted milk decreases. Among the nutrients whose composition is modified by the maternal diet are fatty acids, including DHA, iodine, selenium, and most vitamins. For this reason, it is essential that the mother receives a balanced diet.
Premature babies have very low energy reserves, both fat (less than 2% of birth weight) and glycogen (less than 0.5% of birth weight) in relation to full-term babies. Due to their degree of immaturity, it has been seen in studies that children fed with breastfeeding had a better response than those fed with formula milk, and one of the causes is believed to be because breast milk directly contains DHA, while the formula milks contained omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and his body was unable to break down even DHA. For this reason, the concentrations of DHA in the retina (eye) and the brain were lower in these infants than in those fed with breast milk.
In the first year of the baby, the dose of omega 3 comes exclusively from breast milk or formula, since around 10 months white fish begins to be introduced into infant food, and it is not until 15-18 months when the introduction of oily fish or fatty fish occurs. The rest of foods with omega 3, such as walnuts, do not appear in infant food until they are 3 years old.
For children of preschool age (3-6 years), the greatest source of omega 3 will be fatty fish, which is recommended about 2 times a week. It can be complemented with 3-4 well-chewed walnuts, and they can also take some dairy food enriched with omega 3. During childhood, the brain, like other structures, continue to form and grow, for this reason, it is advisable to ingest the dose necessary omega 3 while they are in the growth period.
Children should take omega 3 supplements if they are not consuming a sufficient amount of fatty fish, when they reject its taste or it is not offered on a regular basis. Children with a fish allergy should NOT take omega 3 supplements from fishIn this case they can take walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans, or take an omega 3 supplement from algae.
The benefits of omega 3 DHA in children's health will be to ensure a sufficient dose of these essential fats to allow proper development of neuronal and visual tissue. Some studies point to a benefit in DHA supplementation for children affected by attention deficit disorder, which may improve their ability to concentrate and study.
Marta Anguera Salvatella
Professor at the Blanquerna Faculty of Health Sciences
Ramon Llull University, Barcelona
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