Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on visual function and neurodevelopment in breastfed term infants

Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jul;82(1):125-32. doi: 10.1093/ajcn.82.1.125.


Background: Normal brain and visual development is thought to require exogenous docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) intake, but the amount needed is debatable. Because the supplementation of breastfeeding mothers with DHA increases the DHA content of their infants' plasma lipids, we hypothesized that it might also improve brain or visual function in the infants.

Objective: The objective was to determine the effect of DHA supplementation of breastfeeding mothers on neurodevelopmental status and visual function in the recipient infant.

Design: Breastfeeding women received capsules containing either a high-DHA algal oil ( approximately 200 mg DHA/d) or a vegetable oil (no DHA) for 4 mo after delivery. Outcome variables included the fatty acid pattern of maternal plasma phospholipid and milk lipids 4 mo postpartum, the fatty acid pattern of plasma phospholipids and visual function in infants at 4 and 8 mo of age, and neurodevelopmental indexes of the infants at 12 and 30 mo of age.

Results: Milk lipid and infant plasma phospholipid DHA contents of the supplemented and control groups were approximately 75% and approximately 35% higher, respectively, at 4 mo postpartum. However, neither the neurodevelopmental indexes of the infants at 12 mo of age nor the visual function at 4 or 8 mo of age differed significantly between groups. In contrast, the Bayley Psychomotor Development Index, but not the Mental Development Index, of the supplemented group was higher (P < 0.01) at 30 mo of age.

Conclusion: DHA supplementation of breastfeeding mothers results in higher infant plasma phospholipid DHA contents during supplementation and a higher Bayley Psychomotor Development Index at 30 mo of age but results in no other advantages either at or before this age.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Phospholipids / blood
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects*


  • Phospholipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids