Lipid metabolism in pregnancy and its consequences in the fetus and newborn

Endocrine. 2002 Oct;19(1):43-55. doi: 10.1385/ENDO:19:1:43.


During early pregnancy there is an increase in body fat accumulation, associated with both hyperphagia and increased lipogenesis. During late pregnancy there is an accelerated breakdown of fat depots, which plays a key role in fetal development. Besides using placental transferred fatty acids, the fetus benefits from two other products: glycerol and ketone bodies. Although glycerol crosses the placenta in small proportions, it is a preferential substrate for maternal gluconeogenesis, and maternal glucose is quantitatively the main substrate crossing the placenta. Enhanced ketogenesis under fasting conditions and the easy transfer of ketones to the fetus allow maternal ketone bodies to reach the fetus, where they can be used as fuels for oxidative metabolism as well as lipogenic substrates. Although maternal cholesterol is an important source of cholesterol for the fetus during early gestation, its importance becomes minimal during late pregnancy, owing to the high capacity of fetal tissues to synthesize cholesterol. Maternal hypertriglyceridemia is a characteristic feature during pregnancy and corresponds to an accumulation of triglycerides not only in very low-density lipoprotein but also in low- and high-density lipoprotein. Although triglycerides do not cross the placental barrier, the presence of lipoprotein receptors in the placenta, together with lipoprotein lipase, phospholipase A2, and intracellular lipase activities, allows the release to the fetus of polyunsaturated fatty acids transported as triglycerides in maternal plasma lipoproteins. Normal fetal development needs the availability of both essential fatty acids and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and the nutritional status of the mother during gestation has been related to fetal growth. However, excessive intake of certain long chain fatty acids may cause both declines in arachidonic acid and enhanced lipid peroxidation, reducing antioxidant capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / physiopathology
  • Infant, Newborn*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Pregnancy / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy, Animal / metabolism*