Maternal DHA levels plays important role in infant development

Docosahexaenoic acid, or “DHA,” is a nutritional compound (an essential fatty acid, or lipid) that has many effects in the body, including the development of the eyes and brain. Prior to birth, fetuses obtain DHA from their mothers, with DHA primarily accumulating in the brain during the third trimester.

DHA is also found naturally in breast milk and has recently been added to some U.S. commercial infant formulas. Some research indicates this postnatal DHA improves vision and some cognitive functions in infants and toddlers, although the evidence is mixed.

In this study, we measured DHA levels in mothers’ blood when their infants were born. We then followed those infants for the first two years of their life, evaluating them on different tests of attention during the first and second years.

We found that infants whose mothers had higher blood levels of DHA at birth showed more mature forms of attention during their first two years. We also found these infants were less distractible during play and tended to be more engaged over time with toys than infants whose mothers had lower blood levels of DHA at delivery.

These findings suggest that higher levels of maternal DHA at birth are related to advanced attentional development, and add to the evidence that DHA may be an important factor in early development. We suggest that future research attempt to produce changes in maternal DHA by supplementing with the fatty acid during pregnancy.

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Karen Melnyk EurekAlert!

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