DHA (22:6n-3) supplementation during infancy has been associated with lower heart rate (HR) and improved neurobehavioral outcomes. We hypothesized that maternal DHA supplementation would improve fetal cardiac autonomic control and newborn neurobehavior.

Pregnant women were randomized to 600 mg/day of DHA or placebo oil capsules at 14.4 (+/-4) weeks gestation. Fetal HR and HRV were calculated from magnetocardiograms (MCGs) at 24, 32 and 36 weeks gestational age (GA). Newborn neurobehavior was assessed using the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS).

Post-partum maternal and infant red blood cell (RBC) DHA was significantly higher in the supplemented group as were metrics of fetal HRV and newborn neurobehavior in the autonomic and motor clusters. Higher HRV is associated with more responsive and flexible autonomic nervous system (ANS).

Coupled with findings of improved autonomic and motor behavior, these data suggest that maternal DHA supplementation during pregnancy may impart an adaptive advantage to the fetus.