δ(15)N and δ(13)C in hair from newborn infants and their mothers: a cohort study

Pediatr Res. 2012 May;71(5):598-604. doi: 10.1038/pr.2012.3. Epub 2012 Feb 1.


Introduction: Protein intake in fetal life or infancy may play a key role in determining early growth rate, a determinant of later health and disease. Previous work has indicated that hair isotopic composition is influenced by diet and protein intake.

Methods: This study analyzes the isotopic composition of hair obtained from 239 mother/newborn pairs randomly selected within a larger cohort enrolled in a study of pre- and postnatal determinants of the child's development and health. The isotopic compositions in nitrogen (δ(15)N) and in carbon (δ(13)C) were determined by isotope ratio mass spectrometry.

Results: Mother and newborn hair δ(15)N were tightly correlated (Pearson r = 0.88). The mean δ(15)N and δ(13)C values of hair from newborn infants were significantly higher than those for the mothers: 9.7 ± 0.7 vs. 8.8 ± 0.6‰ (P < 0.0001) for δ(15)N and -20.0 ± 0.4 vs. -20.4 ± 0.4‰ (P < 0.0001) for δ(13)C. Maternal hair δ(15)N at parturition was slightly and positively correlated with estimates of protein intake (r = 0.14, P = 0.04).

Discussion: Hair δ(15)N of the fetus is both highly dependent on and systematically higher than that of the mother. Whether quantitative and qualitative protein intake, disease, or hormonal status alter hair δ(15)N at birth remains to be determined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes