Lower maternal folate status in early pregnancy is associated with childhood hyperactivity and peer problems in offspring

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009 Oct 28. [Epub ahead of print]

Schlotz W, Jones A, Phillips DI, Gale CR, Robinson SM, Godfrey KM.

Maternal nutrition during pregnancy is associated with fetal brain development and psychopathology in offspring. This study aims to examine the relationship between maternal folate status and dietary intake during pregnancy with offspring brain growth and childhood behavioural difficulties. In a prospective cohort study, total folate intake (TFI) from all sources were assessed in early and late pregnancy and maternal red blood cell folate (RCF) was measured at 14 weeks of pregnancy. The offspring’s body weight and head circumference were measured at birth and in infancy. Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, 100 mothers reported children behavioural difficulties at the average age of 8.75 years old. In early pregnancy, lower maternal RCF and TFI were associated with higher childhood hyperactivity ((RCF: beta = -.24; p = .013; TFI: beta = -.24; p = .022) and peer problem scores (RCF: beta = -.28; p = .004; TFI: beta = -.28; p = .009) in the offspring. Maternal gestational RCF was positively related with head circumference at birth, mediation analyses showed significant inverse indirect associations of RCF with hyperactivity/inattention and peer problems via fetal brain growth. Adjustment for mother’s drinking alcohol and smoking did not alter the results. Although the associations are minor and residual confounding is possible, data collected provide preliminary support for the hypothesis that lower folate status in early pregnancy may impair fetal brain development and affect hyperactivity/inattention and peer problems in childhood.