A mother's omega-3 intake during the last months of pregnancy can significantly boost an infant's sensory, cognitive, and motor development, say Université Laval researchers Gina Muckle and Éric Dewailly.
The researchers first measured docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) concentration — a type of omega-3 fatty acid involved in the development of neurons and retinas — in the umbilical cord blood of 109 infants. "DHA concentration in the umbilical cord is a good indicator of intra-uterine exposure to omega-3s during the last trimester of pregnancy, a crucial period for the development of retinal photoreceptors and neurons," explains Dr. Dewailly.
Tests conducted on these infants at 6 and 11 months revealed that their visual acuity as well as their cognitive and motor development were closely linked to DHA concentration in the umbilical cord blood at the time of their birth. However, there was very little relation between test results and DHA concentration in a mother's milk among infants who were breast-fed. "These results highlight the crucial importance of prenatal exposure to omega-3s in a child's development," points out Dr. Muckle.
Interestingly, the researchers also noted that DHA concentration was higher in the fetus's blood than in the mother's. "While developing its nervous system, a fetus needs great quantities of DHA. It can even transform other types of omega-3s into DHA in order to develop its brain," explains Dr. Dewailly.
Writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, Dewailly says there is no doubt that all pregnant women should be encouraged to get sufficient amounts of omega-3s. "A diet rich in omega-3s during pregnancy can't be expected to solve everything, but our results show that such a diet has positive effects on a child's sensory, cognitive, and motor development."
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Source: Université Laval