Omega-3 Fatty Acid Dietary Supplements Consumed during Pregnancy and Lactation and Child Neurodevelopment: A Systematic Review

Julie E.H. Nevins, Sharon M. Donovan, Linda Snetselaar, Kathryn G. Dewey, Rachel Novotny, Jamie Stang, Elsie M. Taveras, Ronald E. Kleinman, Regan L. Bailey, Ramkripa Raghavan, Sara R. Scinto-Madonich, Sudha Venkatramanan, Gisela Butera, Nancy Terry, Jean Altman, Meghan Adler, Julie E. Obbagy, Eve E. Stoody, Janet De Jesus

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: Maternal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation has profound effects on the development and lifelong health of the child. Long-chain PUFAs are particularly important for myelination and the development of vision during the perinatal period. Objectives: We conducted a systematic review to examine the relationship between supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and/or lactation and neurodevelopment in children, to inform the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Methods: We identified articles on omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in pregnant and lactating women that included measures of neurodevelopment in their children (0-18 y) by searching PubMed, CENTRAL, Embase, and CINAHL Plus. After dual screening articles for inclusion, we qualitatively synthesized and graded the strength of evidence using pre-established criteria for assessing risk of bias, consistency, directness, precision, and generalizability. Results: We included 33 articles from 15 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 1 prospective cohort study. Of the 8 RCTs that delivered omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements during pregnancy alone (200-2200 mg/d DHA and 0-1100 mg/d EPA for approximately 20 wk), 5 studies reported ≥1 finding that supplementation improved measures of cognitive development in the infant or child by 6%-11% (P < 0.05), but all 8 studies also reported ≥1 nonsignificant (P > 0.05) result. There was inconsistent or insufficient evidence for other outcomes (language, social-emotional, physical, motor, or visual development; academic performance; risks of attention deficit disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, or depression) and for supplementation during lactation or both pregnancy and lactation. Populations with a lower socioeconomic status and adolescents were underrepresented and studies lacked racial and ethnic diversity. Conclusions: Limited evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy may result in favorable cognitive development in the child. There was insufficient evidence to evaluate the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy and/or lactation on other developmental outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3483-3494
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Nutrition.


  • anxiety
  • attention deficit disorder
  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • cognition
  • depression
  • lactation
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • pregnancy
  • systematic review


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