Much interest has been expressed about the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) requirements of both preterm and term infants, whereas relatively little attention has been given to the LCPUFA needs of mothers, who may provide the primary source of LCPUFAs for their fetuses and breast-fed infants.

Although maternal requirements for LCPUFAs are difficult to estimate because of large body stores and the capacity to synthesize LCPUFAs from precursors, biochemical and clinical intervention studies have provided some clues.

From a biochemical viewpoint, there appears to be no detectable reduction in plasma n-3 LCPUFA concentrations during pregnancy, whereas there is a clear decline during the early postpartum period. The postpartum decrease in maternal plasma docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) concentration is not instantaneous, may be long-term, is independent of lactation, and is reversible with dietary DHA supplementation (200-400 mg/d).

From a functional standpoint, the results of randomized clinical studies suggest that n-3 LCPUFA supplementation during pregnancy does not affect the incidences of pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia without edema. However, n-3 LCPUFA supplementation may cause modest increases in the duration of gestation, birth weight, or both.

To date, there is little evidence of harm as a result of n-3 LCPUFA supplementation during either pregnancy or lactation. However, researchers need to further elucidate any potential benefits of supplementation for mothers and infants.

Careful attention should be paid to study design, measurement of appropriate health outcomes, and defining minimum and maximum plasma n-3 LCPUFA concentrations that are optimal for both mothers and infants.