Maternal DHA in pregnancy is associated with infants’ problem-solving skills at 12 months


During the last trimester of pregnancy and the first years of life, human brain experiences a rapid development. In these first stages of our life, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (especially docosahexaenoic acid [DHA], an omega-3 fatty acid, and arachidonic acid [AA], an omega-6 fatty acid) are particularly important for normal brain functions, the development of visual and neural tissues, and, consequently, for motor and cognitive development.

Therefore, adequate levels of DHA and AA are important for pregnant and lactating women, and for infants. However, while levels of AA in modern diets are adequate, the same does not apply for DHA. Besides, maternal DHA levels are reduced progressively during pregnancy and after birth; to compensate, it is required a higher intake of DHA. The status in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA is higher in women consuming oily fish during pregnancy.

Several studies have shown that high fish intake during pregnancy is associated with better infant cognitive development at different ages, but the evidence of the effects of maternal fish consumption during pregnancy is not conclusive, because there are also studies that have not found this association. This may be because the studies fail to take account of such factors as maternal and family characteristics, socio-economic status, educational level, and level of stimulation at home, which also (together with nutritional status) affect infant cognitive development.

A recent study has investigated the relationship between the maternal DHA status during pregnancy and its association with infant problem-solving skills. Its main finding was that maternal DHA status in pregnancy was positively correlated with infants’ problem-solving skills at 12 months, and the association was even stronger after controlling outcomes for level of maternal education. Parental stimulation and infant home environment were also found to interact and determine part of infants’ developmental outcome.

Since higher problem-solving scores in infancy are related to higher childhood IQ scores, these results highligth the importance of DHA during brain development in pregnancy.


Braarud HC, Markhus MW, Skotheim S, Stormark KM, Frøyland L, Graff IE, et al. Maternal DHA status during pregnancy has a positive impact on infant problem solving: A norwegian prospective observation study. Nutrients. 2018 Apr 24;10(5).



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