The effect of prenatal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on infant outcomes in African American women living in low-income environments: A randomized, controlled trial

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Sep:71:170-5. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.05.023. Epub 2016 May 25.


Importance: African American women living in urban, low-income environments are at high risk for poor nutrition during pregnancy and birth complications.

Objective: To test the effectiveness of prenatal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation on birth outcomes and infant development in a sample of African American women with Medicaid insurance and living in the city of Pittsburgh.

Design: The Nutrition and Pregnancy Study (NAPS) is a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of prenatal DHA supplementation conducted between 2012 and 2014.

Setting: Participants were recruited from obstetric clinics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Participants: Sixty-four pregnant, African American women were enrolled at 16-21 weeks of gestation and randomized to either 450mg/day of DHA (22:6n-3)(n=43) or a soybean placebo (n=21). Four women (6.3%) withdrew from the study: two participants from each study arm; complete data were obtained for 49 infants (76.5%) at the 3-month assessment.

Interventions: Supplementation with DHA or placebo continued from the beginning of enrollment through delivery.

Main outcome and measures: Data on birth outcomes were collected from medical records. At approximately 3 months post-partum, mothers brought their infants to the laboratory where the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID-III) were administered and cortisol response to the Face-to-Face Still-Face (FFSF) paradigm was assessed.

Results: Infants of mothers who received DHA supplementation had higher birth weight (3.174g versus 2.890g) than infants of mothers receiving placebo (F [2.40]=6.09, p=0.018, eta=0.36), and were more likely to have a 1-min Apgar score greater than 8 (OR=5.99 [95% CI=1.25-28.75], p=0.025). Infants of mothers who received DHA compared with infants of mothers receiving placebo had lower levels of cortisol in response to the FFSF paradigm (F [1.32]=5.36, p=0.018, eta=0.36). None of the scores on the BSID-III differed as a function of active supplement versus placebo.

Conclusions: Infants of women living in urban, low-income environments who received DHA supplementation had more optimal birth outcomes and more modulated cortisol response to a stressor. DHA supplementation may be effective in attenuating the negative effects of prenatal stress on offspring development.

Keywords: Birth outcomes; Cortisol; Docosahexaenoic acid; Infant; Prenatal stress; Supplementation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Black or African American
  • Child Development
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mothers
  • Poverty
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Young Adult


  • Docosahexaenoic Acids