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26 weeks pregnant

Brain food

Summary

In your 26th week of pregnancy, your baby is entering a stage of significant physical growth and brain development. Your balanced diet should include good sources of the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCP) DHA to support this rapid brain development.

Entering your third trimester in week 26

As you enter your third trimester in week 26, your baby measures around 23cm from head to bottom and weighs roughly 2lbs1. Their spine is now becoming stronger, providing the support needed for their growing body. Meanwhile, the lungs continue to mature in preparation for life outside the womb2.

"Your baby’s development at 26 weeks"

Getting ready for your baby's birth

As your baby starts to prepare for their birth, it’s a good idea for you to do the same. Now’s the time to start thinking about your birth plan: using our ‘Preparing for Birth’ app will provide you with everything you need to feel ready and confident about your baby’s arrival.

If you haven’t already told your employer that you’ll be going on maternity leave, you should do so now, as you need to give them at least 15 weeks’ notice. Find out more about maternity and paternity leave at direct.gov.uk or worksmart.org.uk.

LCPs on the brain

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) are a group of special fatty acids. Two of the most significant LCPs for your baby’s development are called DHA and AA, which are part of the Omega 3 and Omega 6 groups of fats3.

"Because your baby’s brain develops so rapidly in your third trimester, making sure they get enough DHA is particularly important."

DHA has been shown to contribute to your baby’s brain and eye development and is important for your baby’s visual development throughout their first year of life.

Because your baby’s brain develops so rapidly in your third trimester, making sure they get enough DHA is particularly important.

DHA continues to support your baby’s brain development after birth when it’s passed on through your breastmilk.

LCP Research

Experts have recently reviewed the evidence relating to LCPs in pregnancy and found that mums who took extra DHA during pregnancy reduced their risk of preterm delivery and increased the birthweight of their babies4,5.

Good fat facts

It’s important to make sure your balanced diet includes good sources of LCPs, particularly DHA, while you’re pregnant and once your baby is born, too.

Experts recommend including an extra daily dose of 200mg DHA during pregnancy3. However, food sources of DHA are limited to oily fish, fish oils and offal, some of which are on the list of foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy, particularly liver.

For a healthy intake of LCPs including DHA, aim to eat 1–2 portions of oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna and salmon, per week. Avoid eating more than this due to the levels of pollutants and mercury they may contain.

If you don’t like the idea of eating oily fish be sure to include some other sources of Omega 3 fats in your diet such as nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, rapeseed oil, wholegrain cereals and soya products6.

Next Steps

Try these pregnancy meal and snack ideas which provide Omega 3 fats:

  • Mackerel on a slice of wholegrain toast
  • Grilled salmon with steamed vegetables
  • Waldorf salad made from apples, celery and walnuts
  • Salmon fishcakes with a baby spinach salad
  • A handful of nuts and seeds
  • A bowl of wholegrain cereal
  • A soya milk fruit smoothie

View references

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1. Murkoff H, Mazel S. What to Expect When You’re Expecting. 4th ed. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2009. p. 261.

2. Deans A. Your New Pregnancy Bible, The experts’ guide to pregnancy and early parenthood. 4th ed. London: Carroll & Brown Publishers Limited, 2013. p. 43.

3. European Union. Commission Regulation (EU) No 432/2012 of 16 May 2012 establishing a list of permitted health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health. OJ L 136 2012;1-40.

4. Carlson SE et al. DHA supplementation and pregnancy outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97(4):808-15.

5. Imhoff-Kunsch B et al. Effect of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake during pregnancy on maternal, infant, and child health outcomes: a systematic review. Paediatric and perinatal epidemiology 2012;26(1):91-107.

6. Gandy J (ed). Manual of Dietetic Practice. 5th ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. 2014. p. 759.

Last reviewed: 28th July 2014
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