Our aim was to examine the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) status of pregnant African-American women reporting to the antenatal clinic at Wayne State University in a longitudinal study design.

Fatty acid compositions of plasma and erythrocyte total lipid extracts were determined and food frequency surveys were administered at 24 weeks of gestation, delivery, and 3 months postpartum for participants (n = 157). DHA (mean ± SD) in the estimated total circulating plasma was similar at gestation (384 ± 162 mg) and delivery (372 ± 155 mg) but was significantly lower at 3 months postpartum (178 ± 81 mg).

The relative weight percentage of DHA and docosapentaenoic acid n-6 (DPAn-6; 22:5n-6) decreased postpartum, whereas their respective metabolic precursors, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3) and arachidonic acid (AA; 20:4n-6), increased. Similar results were found in erythrocytes.

Dietary intake of DHA throughout the study was estimated at 68 ± 75 mg/day. The relative amounts of circulating DHA and DPAn-6 were increased during pregnancy compared with 3 months postpartum, possibly via increased synthesis from EPA and AA.

The low dietary intake and blood levels of DHA in this population compared with others may not support optimal fetal DHA accretion and subsequent neural development.