Study shows prenatal DHA leads to healthier babies

New research strengthens the case for DHA supplementation during pregnancy, revealing babies born to mothers supplemented with the omega-3 fatty acid weighed more at birth and were more likely to be carried to term.

A simple, inexpensive nutritional supplement could increase American infants’ birth weight and gestational age closer to those found in other developed countries.

University of Kansas researchers found that the infants of mothers who were given 600 milligrams of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA during pregnancy weighed more at birth and were less likely to be very low birth weight and born before 34 weeks gestation than infants of mothers who were given a placebo, according to a statement from the university. This result greatly strengthens the case for using the dietary supplement during pregnancy, leading to potentially improved neurodevelopment in infants as well as preventing hospitalizations for preterm birth and reducing the associated costs.

“A reduction in early preterm and very low birth weight delivery could have clear clinical and public health significance,” said Susan Carlson, A.J. Rice Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition at the KU Medical Center, who directed the study with John Colombo, KU professor of psychology and director of the Life Span Institute. The study will be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and is available online.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) occurs naturally in cell membranes. Infants obtains DHA from their mother in utero and postnatally from human milk. The amount received depends upon the mother’s DHA status. American women typically consume less DHA than women in most of the developed world.

“We believe that supplementing U.S. women with DHA could safely increase mean birth weight and gestational age to numbers that are closer to other developed countries such as Norway and Australia,” said Carlson.

The results are from the first five years of a 10-year, double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Researchers will follow up with the same group of babies to see if DHA supplementation benefits their intelligence. 

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