PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the developing fetus. Docosahexaenoic acid, the most important omega-3 fatty acid, is an important component of neural and retinal membranes, and rapidly accumulates in the brain during gestation and the postnatal period. Positive associations have been shown between maternal intake of fish, seafood and omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and/or lactation and visual and cognitive development.

RECENT FINDINGS: The review focuses on new findings by both observational and interventional studies on the influence of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy or lactation on gestation length and birth weight, preterm delivery, preeclampsia, maternal depression and infant visual function and neural development.

SUMMARY: Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and other diseases. Observational and interventional studies indicate a significant association with prolonging gestation and reducing the risk of preterm delivery both in low-risk and in high-risk pregnancies. Further benefits have been suggested for intrauterine growth restriction, preeclampsia and postpartum depression, but the evidence is inconclusive. Higher maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake both in pregnancy and lactation is associated with positive infant neurodevelopmental outcomes. Women of reproductive age should achieve an average dietary docosahexaenoic acid intake of at least 200 mg/day.