The association of maternal polyunsaturated fatty acids during pregnancy with social competence and problem behaviours at 7 years of age: The MEFAB cohort

E. C. Tore*, M. Gielen, E. E. Antoniou, R. H. M. de Groot, R. W. L. Godschalk, T. R. Southwood, L. Smits, N. Stratakis, I. S. M. van de Wurff, M. P. Zeegers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background The prenatal exposure to maternal n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) might influence the development of social competence and internalizing and externalizing behaviours of the child, because of the numerous functions of PUFAs within the nervous system.

Methods: To analyse the association of selected maternal PUFAs (i.e., AA, EPA, DHA, total n-6, total n-3, and the n-6:n-3 ratio) measured during gestation with childhood social competence and problem behaviours, we examined 311 mother-child pairs from the Maastricht Essential Fatty Acid Birth (MEFAB) cohort. For each woman, PUFA-specific changes in relative concentrations were calculated by identifying the best-fitting curve of PUFA concentration by linear splines of gestational age. The associations of changes in maternal PUFAs in early and late pregnancy with childhood social competence, total problems, internalizing and externalizing behaviours, measured with the Child Behaviour Checklist 4/18 at age 7, were investigated with linear regression analyses adjusted for maternal and children's socio-demographic characteristics.

Results: In late gestation (i.e., from gestational week 30), an increase in AA was associated with higher social competence, while a decrease in total n-6 was associated with lower externalizing behaviours. No other significant associations were found.

Discussion: In this prospective study, increasing maternal AA and decreasing total n-6 were associated with improved social competence and externalizing behaviours, respectively, in 7-year old children. Nonetheless, the clinical significance of the identified associations is modest and further investigations are warranted to clarify the relationship between maternal AA and total n-6 during pregnancy and childhood social and behavioural development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProstaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • Prenatal programming
  • Developmental origins of health and disease
  • Biomarkers
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Problem behaviours
  • Social competence

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