Maternal nutrition and risk for neurodevelopmental disorders | Research projects at EPICSS

Maternal nutrition during pregnancy affects the developing brain. The most well-known example of this is the relationship between low folate and increased risk for neural tube defects.

The goal of this research is to understand if other aspects of nutrition during pregnancy can subtly influence the development of the child’s brain and therefore affect the child’s risk of neurodevelopmental disorders later in life.


We aim to understand whether maternal intake key nutrients and maternal deficiencies in those nutrients influence her child’s risk of developmental disorders. For example, iron is crucial to brain development. Studies in mice, rats, and monkeys have shown that iron deficiency during pregnancy can have lasting impact on the structure and function of the offspring’s brain.

Our ongoing studies explore whether maternal iron status and intake of iron supplements during pregnancy influences children’s risk of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and intellectual disability.

We also aim to understand how more general measures of maternal nutrition, such as maternal weight at the start of pregnancy and weight gain during pregnancy, influence children’s risk of neurodevelopmental disorder.

A mothers weight gain affects the child's risk for neurodevelopmental disorders

We have shown that the total amount of weight a mother gained during pregnancy was associated with her child’s risk for ASD and schizophrenia, with the recommended weight gain of 11.5-16 kilograms during pregnancy offering the greatest protection in terms of preventing neurodevelopmental disorders.

Understanding how maternal nutrition and maternal metabolic disorders, such as gestational diabetes, relate to children’s risk of neurodevelopmental disorders will help us understand whether influencing maternal nutrition may help to prevent such disorders and to eventually inform doctors and midwives working in antenatal clinics regarding the best practice for prevention of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Contact person for the project

Profile image

Renee Gardner

Principal Researcher


Association of Gestational Weight Gain and Maternal Body Mass Index in Early Pregnancy With Risk for Nonaffective Psychosis in Offspring.
Mackay E, Dalman C, Karlsson H, Gardner RM JAMA Psychiatry 2017 04;74(4):339-349

Antenatal nutritional supplementation and autism spectrum disorders in the Stockholm youth cohort: population based cohort study.
DeVilbiss EA, Magnusson C, Gardner RM, Rai D, Newschaffer CJ, Lyall K, et al
BMJ 2017 Oct;359():j4273

Maternal body mass index during early pregnancy, gestational weight gain, and risk of autism spectrum disorders: Results from a Swedish total population and discordant sibling study.
Gardner RM, Lee BK, Magnusson C, Rai D, Frisell T, Karlsson H, et al
Int J Epidemiol 2015 Jun;44(3):870-83