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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Pregnancy and Child Health

By Michael McBurney

Maternal nutrition is especially important during pregnancy to meet the nutritional needs of both mother and child. Because of the rapid development of the child’s brain and eye during the last trimester in utero,  long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are essential. Fetal assimilation of LCPUFA is influenced by maternal ω-3 [DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)] and ω-6 fatty acid concentrations.

Standl and colleagues measured cord blood LCPUFA in German women and associated concentrations with body mass index (BMI) of the child over the next 10 years of age.  Cord blood LCPUFA concentrations (ω-3, ω-6 and ω-6:ω-3 ratios) were not consistently associated with BMI. There were significant BMI correlations with  ω-6:ω-3 ratios but directionality and significance were inconsistent. However, cord blood serum phospholipid concentrations for ω-3 LCPUFA (8.0%), ω-6 LCPUFA (25%), and ω-6:ω-3 LCPUFA ratios (3.1%) were virtually identical to that measured in Canadian women by Elias and Innis. These values are lower than those [ω-3 LCPUFA (3.0%), ω-6 LCPUFA (12%), and ω-6:ω-3 LCPUFA ratios (5.0%)] measured in individuals recruited to the control arm of another intervention trial in Germany. Much et al, 2013 did not find a significant association between LCPUFA concentrations and adipose tissue development. However, once again, it should be noted that volunteers for an randomized, placebo-controlled intervention trial  (RCT) were better nourished.

These 3 studies provide some indication of the variability in LCPUFA status of pregnant women. Experts recognize that pregnant women are not consuming enough omega-3 in their diet. Pregnant women need to have an adequate intake of ω-3 fatty acids. Fish consumption should be limited to two 6 ounce, low-mercury seafood servings per week.  Otherwise, look for a fish oil or algal oil supplement providing 250-500 mg DHA and EPA daily.

Main Citation

Standl M, Thiering E, Demmelmair H, Koletzko B, Heinrich J. Age-dependent effects of cord blood long-chain PUFA composition on BMI during the first 10 years of life. 2014 Br J Nutr doi:10.1017/S0007114514000105

Other Citations

Elias SL, Innis SM. Infant plasma trans, n-6, and n-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids are related to maternal plasma fatty acids, length of gestation, and birth weight and length. 2001 Am J Clin Nutr  73:807-814

Much D, Brunner S, Volhardt C, Schmid D, Sedlmeier E-M, Bruder M, Heimberg E, Bartke N, Boehm G, Bader BL, Amann-Gassner U, Hauner H. Effect of dietary intervention to reduce the n-6/n-3 fatty acid ratio on maternal and fetal fatty acid profile and its relation to offspring growth and body composition at 1 year of age. 2013 Eur J Clin Nutr doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.02

Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Van Ausdal W. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy. 2008 Rev Obstet Gynecol 1:162-169