Placental oxidative stress plays a key role in the pathophysiology of several placenta-related disorders. Oxidative stress occurs when excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) damages cellular components, an outcome limited by antioxidant enzymes; mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) also limits ROS production. We recently reported that maternal dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) supplementation reduced placental oxidative damage and enhanced fetal and placental growth in the rats. Here, we examined the effect of n-3 PUFAs on placental antioxidant defences and whether n-3 PUFA supplementation could prevent growth restriction induced by placental ischaemia–reperfusion (IR), a known inducer of oxidative stress. Rats were fed either standard or high-n-3 PUFA diets from day 1 of pregnancy. Placentas were collected on days 17 and 22 in untreated pregnancies (term=day 23) and at day 22 following IR treatment on day 17. Expression of several antioxidant enzyme genes (Sod1, Sod2, Sod3, Cat, Txn1 and Gpx3) and Ucp2 was measured by quantitative RT-PCR in the placental labyrinth zone (LZ) and junctional zone (JZ). Cytosolic superoxide dismutase (SOD), mitochondrial SOD and catalase (CAT) activities were also analyzed. Maternal n-3 PUFA supplementation increased LZ mRNA expression of Cat at both gestational days (2- and 1.5-fold respectively; P<0.01) and female Sod2 at day 22 (1.4-fold, P<0.01). Cytosolic SOD activity increased with n-3 PUFA supplementation at day 22 (1.3-fold, P<0.05). Sod1 and Txn1 expression decreased marginally (30 and 22%, P<0.05). JZ antioxidant defences were largely unaffected by diet. Despite increased LZ antioxidant defences, maternal n-3 PUFA supplementation did not protect against placental IR-induced growth restriction of the fetus and placental LZ.