OBJECTIVES: To examine the relation of cord plasma docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) concentration to gestation length, birth size, growth, and infant visual acuity, cognitive, and motor development and the effects on growth and development associated with DHA intake from breast-feeding.

STUDY DESIGN: DHA, other polyunsaturated fatty acids, and 3 environmental contaminants (polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, and lead) were assessed in cord plasma and maternal plasma and milk in 109 Inuit infants in Arctic Quebec. Multiple regression was used to examine the relation of cord DHA and DHA from breast-feeding on growth and development at 6 and 11 months, after controlling for contaminant exposure and other potential confounders.

RESULTS: Higher cord DHA concentration was associated with longer gestation, better visual acuity and novelty preference on the Fagan Test at 6 months, and better Bayley Scale mental and psychomotor performance at 11 months. By contrast, DHA from breast-feeding was not related to any indicator of cognitive or motor development in this full-term sample.

CONCLUSIONS: The association of higher cord DHA concentration with more optimal visual, cognitive, and motor development is consistent with the need for substantial increases in this critically important fatty acid during the third trimester spurt of synaptogenesis in brain and photoreceptor development.