Essential fatty acids in mother’s diet affect infant’s sleep patterns

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, belongs to a class of nutrients known as n-3 fatty acids and is essential for normal visual and central nervous system (CNS) development in infants, as well as being associated with a number of health benefits in adults. Cheruku et al. recently published a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in which they investigated CNS integrity of newborn infants and related it to the plasma DHA status of their mothers. There were signs of more advanced neurological development as indicated by more mature sleep patterning in infants whose mothers had higher concentrations of plasma DHA.

Because n-3 fatty acids (including DHA) accrue in the fetal tissues primarily during the last trimester of pregnancy, adequate maternal intake of these nutrients during this stage is critical for both pre- and postnatal brain development. In this study, 17 healthy pregnant women were enrolled on admission to a hospital maternity ward, and maternal venous blood samples were collected at delivery. The women were divided into a high-DHA and a low-DHA group according to their plasma DHA concentrations.

Assessments of the newborn infants' sleep patterns during their first two days of life were made using a Motility Monitoring System, consisting of a capacitance-type sensor pad placed under the sheet or mattress pad in the infant's crib. The pad is connected to an amplifier that records signals of the infant's respiration and body movements during sleep cycles. Infants of mothers in the high-DHA group demonstrated more mature sleep patterns, characterized by a lower ratio of active to quiet sleep, significantly less sleep-wake transition time, and more wakefulness than infants whose mothers were in the low-DHA group.1 In previous studies, sleep patterns similar to those found in the high-DHA infant group were related to more mature CNS development, and breastfed infants--who receive DHA in their mother's milk-- also had more mature neurological development than did formula-fed infants.

DHA is most commonly found in cold-water fish, in fish oils, and in supplements. Mothers in the low-DHA group in the study tended to be younger, less educated, and more often non-Caucasian , suggesting that maternal education on the benefits of prenatal nutrition with n-3 fatty acids ought to be extended to this generation of new mothers.


Cheruku, Sunita et al. Higher maternal plasma docosahexaenoic acid during pregnancy is associated with more mature neonatal sleep-state patterning. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:608-13.

This media release is provided by The American Society for Clinical Nutrition to provide current information on nutrition-related research. This information should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, consult your doctor. To see the complete text of this article, please go to:

For more information, please contact: [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.