Background: Infant temperament predicts a range of developmental and behavioral outcomes throughout childhood. Both maternal fatty acid intake and psychosocial stress exposures during pregnancy may influence infant temperament. Furthermore, maternal race may modify prenatal diet and stress effects. The goals of this study are to examine the joint effects of prenatal diet and stress and the modifying effects of race on infant behavior.
Methods: Analyses included N=255 mother-infant dyads, primarily minorities (21% Blacks; 42% Hispanics), enrolled in an urban pregnancy cohort. Maternal prenatal stress was indexed by a negative life events (NLEs) score on the Crisis in Family Systems-Revised survey. Prenatal total daily intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) (n3, n6) were estimated from a food frequency questionnaire; n3:n6 ratios were calculated. Mothers completed the Infant Behavior Questionnaire-Revised (IBQ-R), a measure of infant temperament, when the children were 6 months old. Three commonly used dimensions were derived: Orienting & Regulation, Extraversion, and Negative Affectivity. Associations among prenatal stress, maternal n3:n6 ratio, and race/ethnicity on infant temperament, controlling for maternal education and age and child sex, were examined.
Results: Among Blacks, prenatal stress effects on infant Orienting & Regulation scores were modified by maternal n3:n6 ratios (p=0.03): As NLEs increased, lower n3:n6 ratios predicted lower infant Orienting & Regulation scores, whereas higher n3:n6 ratios attenuated the effect of prenatal stress. There were no main or interaction effects predicting Extraversion or Negative Affectivity.
Conclusions: An optimal PUFA ratio may protect the fetus from stress effects on infant behavior, particularly among Blacks. These findings may have implications for later neurodevelopment and social functioning predicted by early temperamental characteristics.
Keywords: Ethnicity; Fatty acids; Psychosocial stress; Race; Temperament.