Eighty-eight multiparous sows were used to evaluate whether type and timing of oil supplementation during gestation influences the incidence of low birth weight (LBW). Sows were allocated (eight per treatment) commercial sow pellets (3 kg/d; control diet) or an experimental diet consisting of control diet plus 10 % extra energy in the form of excess pellets, palm oil, olive oil (OO), sunflower oil (SO) or fish oil; experimental diets were fed during either the first half (G1) or second half (G2) of gestation. Growth performance and endocrine profile of LBW ( < 1·09 kg) and normal birth weight (NBW; 1·46–1·64 kg) offspring were compared. Maternal dietary supplementation altered the distribution curve for piglet birth weight. SOG1 sows had a greater proportion of LBW piglets (P < 0·05), whilst it was reduced in the OOG1 group (P < 0·05). Growth rate of LBW piglets was lower compared with their NBW siblings (P < 0·05) when dietary supplementation was offered in G2 but were similar for G1. At birth, LBW offspring of supplemented animals possessed more fat compared with the control group (P < 0·05); LBW offspring of control animals exhibited a more rapid decline in fat free mass/kg prior to weaning. Plasma metabolites and insulin concentrations were influenced by maternal diet and birth weight. In conclusion, maternal dietary supplementation altered the distribution of piglet birth weights and improved the energy status of LBW piglets. Supplementation with MUFA during G1 reduced the incidence of LBW, whereas PUFA had the reverse effect.