Getting plenty of DHA, one of the important omega-3 fats found in breast milk, could help to prevent allergies, asthma, and eczema in young children. Dr. Eileen Birch, who has previously studied links between DHA and improved mental and visual development, followed 89 formula-fed children who received formula with or without DHA included.
Her results were presented at the 2008 Pediatric Societies Meeting. Strikingly, more than half of the children fed standard formula throughout the first year had been diagnosed with some form of allergy by the third birthday. By comparison, allergies, asthma, or eczema had been diagnosed in only 26 percent of those who were fed DHA formula for a year.
This small randomized study does not prove that DHA reduces allergies, but the idea is intriguing. Omega-3 fats including DHA are useful in reducing inflammation. Clearly, babies are designed to receive DHA in their diets.
I enthusiastically support the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies breastfeed throughout the first year, when possible, and for as long after that as both the mother and the baby desire. If nursing stops before age two or three, I recommend that babies get DHA from another source.
DHA is a valuable nutrient throughout life, but it is especially important for developing babies from before birth through age three.