Higher maternal plasma docosahexaenoic acid during pregnancy is associated with more mature neonatal sleep-state patterning

Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Sep;76(3):608-13. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/76.3.608.


Background: The effect of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on the developing fetal central nervous system (CNS) and related functional outcomes in infancy remain unexplored. Sleep and wake states of newborns provide a tool for assessing the functional integrity of the CNS.

Objective: We investigated whether CNS integrity in newborns, measured with sleep recordings, was associated with maternal concentrations of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially DHA.

Design: Plasma phospholipid fatty acid concentrations were measured in 17 women at parturition. On postpartum day 1 (P1) and day 2 (P2), a pressure-sensitive pad under the infants' bedding recorded body movements and respiratory patterns to measure sleep and wake states.

Results: Maternal plasma phospholipid DHA ranged from 1.91% to 4.5% by wt of total fatty acids. On the basis of previously published data and the median DHA concentration, the women were divided into 2 groups: high DHA (> 3.0% by wt of total fatty acids) and low DHA (</= 3.0% by wt of total fatty acids). Infants of high-DHA mothers had a significantly lower ratio of active sleep (AS) to quiet sleep (QS) and less AS than did infants of low-DHA mothers. Furthermore, the former infants had less sleep-wake transition and more wakefulness on P2. Correlations of maternal DHA status with infant sleep states were consistent with these data. Also, the ratio of maternal n-6 to n-3 fatty acids on P1 was inversely associated with QS and positively associated with arousals in QS. On P2, maternal n-6:n-3 was positively associated with AS, sleep-wake transition, and AS:QS.

Conclusion: The sleep patterns of infants born to mothers with higher plasma phospholipid DHA suggest greater CNS maturity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Central Nervous System / embryology
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood*
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Movement
  • Phospholipids / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Respiration
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Wakefulness


  • Fatty Acids
  • Phospholipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids