Assessing Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy and Lactation to Optimize Maternal Mental Health and Childhood Cognitive Development

Chelsea M Klemens; Kataneh Salari; Ellen L Mozurkewich


Clin Lipidology. 2012;7(1):93-109. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid, is an important building block of the CNS, and its availability during pregnancy and lactation may influence maternal mental health and, later, childhood developmental outcomes. Epidemiological and observational studies have supported a role for omega-3 fatty acids in optimizing child development and maternal mental health. However, results of randomized intervention studies have not consistently shown beneficial effects for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy and lactation. This review summarizes the biological plausibility, as well as the available evidence from observational and randomized controlled trials, of omega-3 supplementation in pregnancy and lactation.


Industrialization has led to major changes in the western diet that have increased the percentage of dietary calories obtained from saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids, and decreased the percentage of calories obtained through omega-3 fatty acids.[1] In contrast with a previous ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fats of approximately 2:1, the modern diet has an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of 20–30:1.[1] This imbalance has led to speculation that these dietary changes may be responsible for the observed increase in mood disorders and depression over the past half a century.[2] The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is an essential substrate for the development of the brain and CNS during fetal development, and DHA is preferentially transferred across the placenta to meet this need.[3] This selective transfer may leave mothers relatively depleted of DHA stores; low DHA levels have been identified as a risk factor for perinatal depression.[3,4] Because of a potential preventive or therapeutic role for omega-3 fatty acids in perinatal depression at a time when there is a concern to avoid the potential harms of pharmacotherapy, there is a growing interest to explore any role for maternal supplementation in the prevention or treatment of perinatal depression.[5] Maternal omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has also been proposed as a means to optimize the cognitive development of the fetus, although the data surrounding this potential benefit are also very mixed.[6] We conducted this review to summarize the recent literature on omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy and lactation on maternal mental health and child development.


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