DHA functional foods in pregnancy and lactation: Effects on maternal and infant DHA status and immediate postnatal neurobehavioral function and breast milk DHA

Date of Completion

January 2006


Health Sciences, Obstetrics and Gynecology|Health Sciences, Nutrition




The first two objectives of this dissertation research were to study the effects of supplementing the diets of pregnant women with a DHA functional food on maternal and infant DHA status and immediate postnatal neurobehavioral function in the newborn. This moderate intervention trial utilized a longitudinal, randomized, double blinded and placebo controlled design. Maternal plasma and erythrocyte (RBC) phospholipid (PL) fatty acids and infant venous umbilical RBC PL were determined. Infant sleep/wake states were assessed as a determinant of maturity of the central nervous system (CNS). The third objective was to explore the effects of the DHA functional food on DHA breast milk levels during lactation in a pilot study. Breast milk total fatty acids were determined. ^ In studies 1 and 2, intervention with the DHA functional food (cereal based snack bar; 300 mg DHA per 23 g bar) was initiated at 24 weeks of gestation. Maternal blood was collected at 20, 26-30, 32-36 weeks and at delivery (38-40 weeks). Infant sleep recordings were obtained the first two postnatal days using the Motility Monitoring System (MMS). On postnatal day 1, there were significant differences between groups in Arousals in Quiet Sleep (Ar:QS) and Arousals in Active Sleep (Ar:AS), indicating CNS benefit. There were no differences between groups regarding other sleep parameters or in the longitudinal change in maternal plasma or RBC PL fatty acid profiles during pregnancy. There was no difference between groups regarding umbilical RBC PL DHA. Across both groups, the umbilical RBC PL DHA levels were significantly higher in infants compared to mothers, indicating preferential transfer of DHA across the placenta to the fetal circulation. Based on the longitudinal biochemical data, we conclude that the efficacy of the DHA functional food becomes apparent in the postnatal state. Fewer arousals in both QS and AS on postnatal day 1 for the infants of women who consumed the DHA functional food support the notion that moderate increases in DHA intake during pregnancy can have functional consequences for the developing infant. ^ Study 3 explored the effect of the DHA functional food during lactation. Intervention commenced 1 week postpartum. Milk samples were collected at 2, 6 and 8 weeks. There was a significant increase in the breast milk DHA levels at 6 weeks postpartum in the DNA supplemented group. Consumption of the DHA functional food provided a means of increasing dietary DHA without altering breast milk levels of AA.^