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Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Apr;87(4):887-95.

Maternal n-3, n-6, and trans fatty acid profile early in pregnancy and term birth weight: a prospective cohort study.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Documentation, and Health Promotion, Municipal Health Service, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Maternal n-3, n-6, and trans fatty acids are claimed to affect fetal growth, yet evidence is limited.


We investigated the association between maternal n-3, n-6, and trans fatty acids measured early in pregnancy and fetal growth.


Amsterdam pregnant women (n = 12 373) were invited to complete a questionnaire (response 67%) and donate blood around the 12th pregnancy week for nutrient analysis. For 4336 women, fatty acid concentrations were measured in plasma phospholipids (gas-liquid chromatography). Associations of these concentrations with birth weight and small-for-gestational-age (SGA) risk were analyzed (liveborn singleton term deliveries, n = 3704).


Low concentrations of individual n-3 fatty acids and 20:3n-6, the precursor of arachidonic acid (20:4n-6), but high concentrations of the other n-6 fatty acids and the main dietary trans fatty acid (18:1n-9t) were associated with lower birth weight (estimated difference in univariate analysis -52 to -172 g for extreme quintile compared with middle quintile). In general, SGA risk increased accordingly. After adjustment for physiologic, lifestyle-related and sociodemographic factors, low concentrations of most n-3 fatty acids and 20:3n-6 and high concentrations of 20:4n-6 remained associated with lower birth weight (-52 to -57 g), higher SGA risk, or both (odds ratios: 1.38-1.50). Infants of the 7% of women with the most adverse fatty acid profile were on average 125 g lighter and twice as likely to be small for gestational age.


An adverse maternal fatty acid profile early in pregnancy is associated with reduced fetal growth, which, if confirmed, gives perspective for the dietary prevention of lower birth weight.

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