The role of DHA & EPA through the lifecycle: Infants & Toddlers

15 November 2018


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are forms of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids are found in cold-water, fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, herring, shellfish, mackerel, and sardines), seaweed, and fish-oil supplements. Our bodies make small amounts of DHA on their own from ALA, but to reach an adequate amount we require additional intake from our diet and supplements.

Both DHA and EPA play vital roles in establishing and maintaining our health. DHA is an essential nutrient for the initial development and the continued health of our brain health, neuron function, and visual acuity, remaining an important nutrient throughout our entire lives, from infancy through old age. Because of this role in brain and retina growth and function, DHA plays a more crucial role than EPA in the very earliest stages of life.

Infants Needs

During infancy, especially the first few years of life, the role of DHA is especially crucial. DHA plays the main role in forming a healthy brain, nervous system, and vision in our babies. It is crucial for pregnant women to have adequate amounts of DHA in their diet for the baby while in utero, and it remains an essential dietary need for the babies once born. The same way vitamin D is needed for healthy bones, DHA is required for healthy brains. [1]

Infants being breastfed should be able to get DHA from their mother if she is getting enough through her diet from fatty fish and supplements. For babies on formula, some infant formulas will be fortified with DHA, indicated on the nutrition label. However, additional supplementation may be beneficial regardless of the baby’s main source of nutrition. It is best to confer with your pediatrician.

Toddler Needs

Toddlers also require an adequate amount of DHA daily, as their brains continue to grow and develop. These toddler years are the part of our lives where our brains grown the most, and therefore require the most DHA to ensure healthy growth and development. As moms begin to wean off breast milk or formula, supplementation of DHA plays a larger role. Many toddlers can be picky eaters and may not be eating enough fish to reach their DHA needs from diet alone; it is a good idea to discuss supplementation with your pediatrician. Toddlers’ ages 1-3 years old require 70 mg of DHA daily.[2]


  1. [1] Morse, Nancy L. “Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid, Folic Acid, Vitamin D and Iodine on Foetal and Infant Brain Development and Function Following Maternal Supplementation during Pregnancy and Lactation.” Nutrients, MDPI, July 2012,
  2. [2] “Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Tags: baby, brain, child, DHA, infant, oily fish, omega-3, omega-3 fatty acids, recommendations, seafood, toddler


Brigitte Zeitlin

Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and owner of BZ Nutrition, a private nutrition counseling practice. She has been featured in Us Weekly, Women’s Health, SELF, and Well+Good. Become a client and work with Brigitte by visiting

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