Maternal consumption of a DHA-containing functional food benefits infant sleep patterning: an early neurodevelopmental measure

Early Hum Dev. 2012 Jul;88(7):531-7. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2011.12.016. Epub 2012 Jan 24.


Background: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) is highly important during pregnancy for optimal development and functioning of fetal neural tissue. Infant ability to organize sleep and wake states following parturition is highly associated with later developmental outcomes. The impact of maternal DHA intake on sleep organization has not been previously investigated.

Aims: To examine the effect of a DHA-containing functional food consumed during pregnancy on early neurobehavioral development as assessed by infant sleep patterning in the first 48 postnatal hours.

Study design: A longitudinal, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled design was used.

Subjects: Women (18-35 y) with no pregnancy complications consumed a cereal-based functional food (92 kcal) containing 300 mg DHA an average of 5 d/week or placebo bars (n=27 DHA, n=21 Placebo). The intervention began at 24 weeks gestation and continued until delivery (38-40 weeks).

Outcome measures: Infant sleep/wake states were measured on postnatal days 1 (D1) and 2 (D2) using a pressure sensitive mattress recording respiration and body movements.

Results: Using ANCOVA and controlling for ethnic variation, there were significant group differences in arousals in quiet sleep on D1 (P=0.006) and D2 (P=0.011) with fewer arousals in the DHA intervention group compared to the placebo group. Similarly, arousals in active sleep on D1 were significantly lower in the DHA-intervention group (P=0.012) compared to the placebo group.

Conclusions: We conclude that increased prenatal supply of dietary DHA has a beneficial impact on infant sleep organization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Child Development / drug effects
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Functional Food
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena* / drug effects
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena* / physiology
  • Placebos
  • Polysomnography
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Placebos
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids