Lawrence, KS and Oslo, Norway—Maintaining a healthy body is always important, but pregnant women must be diligent in their efforts to not only take care of themselves, but also the child inside of them as well. Luckily, new prenatal nutrition research has been released that will assist expecting mother in providing their unborn child with a healthy start in life.

A study conducted by the University of Kansas revealed that infants whose mothers took 600 milligrams of DHA throughout their pregnancy were more likely to have a healthy birth weight than those whose mothers took a placebo. Overall, babies in the DHA group had longer gestation time (by 2.9 days), greater birth weight (by 172 g), greater length (by 0.7 cm), and bigger head circumference (by 0.5 cm). Fewer babies in this group were born prematurely and tended to have shorter hospital stays if they were born preterm. Some 350 women took part in the study

Co-director of the study Susan Carlson, A.J Rice Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center said in a press statement, “We believe that supplementing U.S women with DHA could safely increase mean birth weight and gestation age to numbers that are closer to other developed countries such as Norway and Australia.”

The study (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) also indicates that DHA may be linked to an infant’s cognitive and intellectual development. “That’s why we are so interested in the effects of DHA taken prenatally,” said John Colombo, professor of psychology and director of the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas, “because we will really be able to see how this nutrient affects development over the long term.”

Another unrelated study, published in JAMA revealed that exposure to prenatal folic acid supplements (especially at the time of conception) may reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) such as Asperger syndrome in infants. Researchers looked at data from 85,176 children participating the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, of which 114 children had autistic disorder, 56 had Asperger syndrome and 100 had persuasive developmental disorder). Only 0.10% of the children born from mothers who took folic acid four weeks before and eight weeks after the start of their pregnancy had autistic disorder. This is in opposition to the 0.21% who didn’t. 

These results suggest it is never too early to think about a child’s future.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2013 (online 3/1/13)