Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy and lactation: Infant outcome

Date of Completion

January 2000


Health Sciences, Nutrition|Health Sciences, Human Development




The objectives of this study were to assess the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) status of pregnant and lactating women, and to study the association of maternal LCPUFA to infant LCPUFA. To determine the association of maternal LCPUFA status during pregnancy to infant central nervous system (CNS) integrity at birth. ^ In study 1, the LCPUFA status of lactating women and their infants was assessed longitudinally from delivery to 34 weeks postpartum (pp). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) decreased significantly during lactation in maternal plasma phospholipids (PL) and in breast milk total fatty acids (TFA). Further, there was a significant decrease in infant erythrocyte PL DHA from early pp to 28 weeks pp. Arachidonic acid (AA) decreased in breast milk over time, however, the infant erythrocyte PL AA showed no significant changes overtime. The infants were dependent on dietary DHA for the first 20 weeks pp. ^ In study 2, the influence of maternal LCPUFA status during pregnancy on infant CNS integrity was assessed in 17 women. The infants' sleep recordings measured by the Motility Monitoring System, were used to determine the CNS integrity of the newborn infant. Infants born to mothers with greater concentrations of DHA prenatally, had less active sleep, more quiet sleep, a lower active sleep to quiet sleep ratio, less transitional sleep and more wakefulness. This pattern of sleep in infants born to the mothers with the higher DHA soon after birth suggests a developmental advantage. ^ In study 3, the hormonal influence on LCPUFA status during pregnancy and early lactation was studied. Estrogen and progesterone had significant negative influences on the maternal LCPUFA status. This could be due to the stimulation of the synthesis of eicosanoids or inhibition of the delta-5 and delta-6 desaturases. ^ Thus, from these studies it is clear that the maternal diet determines the supply of DHA to the fetus and the breast fed infant for the first 20 weeks postpartum. The variability in DHA status of the fetus has been shown to be of functional significance, as indicated by the more mature neonatal sleep state patterning of infants exposed to greater concentrations of DHA prenatally. ^