PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To discuss new data from the literature on the relationship between the supply of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids during pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, evaluated as the fatty acid composition of blood and breast milk, fetal and infantile development and maternal health.

RECENT FINDINGS: Supplementation of alpha-linolenic acid in high doses or docosahexaenoic acid in low doses did not result in a significant enhancement of the blood docosahexaenoic acid status of the offspring. In contrast, supplementation of docosahexaenoic acid in relatively high doses led to significant increases in infantile docosahexaenoic acid values and to a significant enhancement of breast milk docosahexaenoic acid content. Electroretinogram data obtained during the first week of life and pattern-reversal visual evoked potentials investigated at 50 and 66 weeks postconception were significantly associated with the docosahexaenoic acid status of the infant at birth. Children whose mothers received docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy and lactation scored better in mental processing tests carried out at 4 years than children whose mothers received placebo.

SUMMARY: Beneficial health outcomes are more likely to result from supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid itself, rather than its precursor alpha-linolenic acid. Trials have shown that a higher maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake during pregnancy may be favourable for the visual and cognitive development of the offspring. The significant positive association between maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake during pregnancy and the children's mental processing scores at 4 years suggest that optimization of the docosahexaenoic acid status of expectant women may offer long-term developmental benefits to their children.