Type of fatty acids in maternal diets during pregnancy and/or lactation and metabolic consequences of the offspring

J Nutr Biochem. 2015 Feb;26(2):99-111. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2014.10.001. Epub 2014 Oct 12.


During pregnancy and/or lactation, maternal nutrition is related to the adequate development of the fetus, newborn and future adult, likely by modifications in fetal programming and epigenetic regulation. Fetal programming is characterized by adaptive responses to specific environmental conditions during early life stages, which may alter gene expression and permanently affect the structure and function of several organs and tissues, thus influencing the susceptibility to metabolic disorders. Regarding lipid metabolism during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, the maternal body accumulates fat, whereas in late pregnancy, the lipolytic activity in the maternal adipose tissue is increased. However, an excess or deficiency of certain fatty acids may lead to adverse consequences to the fetuses and newborns. Fetal exposure to trans fatty acids appears to promote early deleterious effects in the offspring's health, thereby increasing the individual risk for developing metabolic diseases throughout life. Similarly, the maternal intake of saturated fatty acids seems to trigger alterations in the liver and adipose tissue function associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. The polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly long-chain PUFAs (long-chain PUFA-arachidonic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid), play an important and beneficial physiologic role in the offspring who receive this fatty acid during critical periods of development. Therefore, the maternal nutritional condition and fatty acid intake during pregnancy and/or lactation are critical factors that are strongly associated with normal fetal and postnatal development, which influence the modifications in fetal programming and in the individual risk for developing metabolic diseases throughout life.

Keywords: Fatty acids; Lactation; Metabolism; Pregnancy; Programming.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child Development*
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism
  • Dietary Fats / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation*
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Metabolic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology*
  • Metabolic Diseases / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk
  • Trans Fatty Acids / adverse effects
  • Trans Fatty Acids / metabolism


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Trans Fatty Acids