Maternal fatty acid status during pregnancy and lactation and relation to newborn and infant status


Lotte Lauritzen, Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 30, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark. E-mail:


The present review of determinants of infant fatty acid status was undertaken as part of a conference on ‘Fatty acid status in early life in low-income countries: determinants and consequences’. Emphasis is placed on the essential fatty acids, and particularly the physiologically important long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) of 20 and 22 carbons. We are unaware of any studies of determinants of infant fatty acid status in populations with a cultural dietary pattern with low amounts of linoleic acid (LA, 18:2n-6) and α-linolenic acid (ALA,18:3n-3). Many reports suggest that there may be adverse health effects related to the increased proportion of LA in relation to ALA, which have occurred worldwide due to the increased availability of vegetable oils high in LA. The issue of dietary n-6 to n-3 balance may apply to infant fatty acid status both during fetal and post-natal life; however, this review focuses on the n-3 and n-6 LCPUFA, in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6), which are the predominant n-3 and n-6 LCPUFA found in cell membranes. The evidence that these fatty acids are preferentially transferred from maternal to fetal circulation across the placenta, and the sources and mechanisms for this transfer, are reviewed. We also address the sources of DHA and AA for the newborn including human milk DHA and AA and the factors that influence maternal DHA status and consequently the amount of DHA available for transfer to the fetus and infant via human milk.