New research indicates that babies whose mothers eat diets high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) develop attention skills much more quickly than babies of low-DHA mothers.
John Colombo and colleagues measured the blood DHA levels of 70 pregnant women at the time of delivery, and then assessed their infants at several intervals between 4 and 18 months of age. Infants from high-DHA mothers, the researchers say, were 2 months ahead of the other infants at 6 months of age. The low- DHA babies caught up in early attention skills by 8 months of age, but were behind in other, more advanced types of attention skills at 12 and 18 months. At this stage, the babies of high-DHA mothers were significantly less distractible, and better able to sustain their attention when playing with complex toys.
"The most striking thing we found," says Colombo, "was that infants from mothers who had high levels of DHA consistently showed more advanced forms of attention all the way out into the second year of life."
Modern diets are typically low in DHA (see related article, Crime Times, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 1, Page 1). This nutrient, which cannot be manufactured by the body, is necessary for the development of the brain and eyes. Because the mercury in fish is a concern for pregnant women, nutritionist Barbara Levine suggests that they eat omega-3-fortified eggs or take algae-derived supplements.
"Maternal DHA and the development of attention in infancy and toddlerhood," J. Colombo, K. N. Kannass, D. J. Shaddy, S. Kunderthi, J. M. Maikranz, C. J. Anderson, O. M. Blaga, and S. E. Carlson, Child Development, Volume 75, No. 4, July-August 2004, 1254-67. Address: John Colombo, Schiefelbusch Institute for Lifespan Studies, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Pregnant? Omega-3 essential for baby's brain," Salynn Boyles, WebMD Medical News, July 16, 2004.
"Infants whose mothers have higher levels of an essential omega-3 fatty acid show more advanced cognitive development," news- medical.net, July 21, 2004.