Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) is an important constituent of the brain. Evidence from well-designed intervention trials of the long-term benefits of increasing DHA intake during pregnancy has been sparse.

We evaluated global cognition, behavior, and attention at age 5 y in the offspring of Mexican women who participated in a randomized controlled trial of prenatal DHA supplementation.

A total of 1094 women were randomly assigned to receive 400 mg of either DHA or placebo/d from 18 to 22 wk of pregnancy until delivery. We assessed cognitive development and behavioral and executive functioning, including attention, in 797 offspring at age 5 y (82% of 973 live births) with the use of the McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities (MSCA), the parental scale of the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2), and the Conners' Kiddie Continuous Performance Test (K-CPT). We compared the groups on raw scores, T-scores, and standardized scores, as appropriate. We examined heterogeneity by the quality of the home environment, maternal intelligence, and socioeconomic status.

There were no group differences for MSCA scores (P > 0.05), but the positive effect of the home environment at 12 mo on general cognitive abilities was attenuated in the DHA group compared with in the placebo group (P-interaction < 0.05). There were no differences between groups on the BASC-2. On the K-CPT, offspring in the DHA group showed improved mean ± SD T-scores compared with those of the placebo group for omissions (DHA: 47.6 ± 10.3; placebo: 49.6 ± 11.2; P < 0.01) with no differences (P > 0.05) for the other K-CPT scores or of the proportion who were clinically at risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorders after Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons.

Prenatal exposure to DHA may contribute to improved sustained attention in preschool children.