Fetal DHA inadequacy and the impact on child neurodevelopment: a follow-up of a randomised trial of maternal DHA supplementation in pregnancy

Br J Nutr. 2018 Feb;119(3):271-279. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517003531. Epub 2018 Jan 10.


DHA is an important component of neural lipids accumulating in neural tissue during development. Inadequate DHA in gestation may compromise infant development, but it is unknown whether there are lasting effects. We sought to determine whether the observed effects of fetal DHA inadequacy on infant development persist into early childhood. This follow-up study assessed children (5-6 years) whose mothers received 400 mg/d DHA or a placebo during pregnancy. Child neurodevelopment was assessed with several age-appropriate tests including the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children. A risk-reduction model was used whereby the odds that a child from the maternal placebo group would fail to achieve a test score in the top quartile was calculated. The association of maternal DHA intake and status in gestation with child test scores, as well as with child DHA intake and status, was also determined. No differences were detected in children (n 98) from the maternal placebo and DHA groups achieving a high neurodevelopment test score (P>0·05). However, maternal DHA status was positively related to child performance on some tests including language and short-term memory. Furthermore, child DHA intake and status were related to the mother's intake and status in gestation. The neurodevelopment effects of fetal DHA inadequacy may have been lost or masked by other variables in the children. Although we provide evidence that maternal DHA status is related to child cognitive performance, the association of maternal and child DHA intake and status limits the interpretation of whether DHA before or after birth is important.

Keywords: Beery Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration; IQ intelligence quotient; MPI Mental Performance Index; PC phosphatidylcholine; PE phosphatidylethanolamine; PPVT Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test; Child DHA intake; Child brain development; Fetal DHA inadequacy; Maternal DHA intake.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / deficiency*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / drug effects*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Nutritional Status
  • Placebos
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care*


  • Placebos
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids

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