The main source of fat in the diet in rural areas of northern China is soybean oil, therefore the pattern of essential fatty acids in human milk may be assumed to differ from that in milk from women in Western countries and to be similar to that of vegans. The concentrations of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human milk and information on diet were analysed for 41 lactating women in rural areas of north China, and the growth of their infants was measured. The subjects were divided into two groups (group I, 1 mo postpartum; group II, 3 mo postpartum). The dietary intake of the mothers was high in carbohydrate and low in fat, protein and energy. The concentrations of linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) were high. The ratio of LA to LNA, (21.6), was higher than has been reported from other countries. The concentration of docosa-hexaenoic acid (DHA) was low and the ratio of arachidonic acid (AA) to DHA was much higher (2.8) than recommended and similar to that found in vegans. The concentrations of AA and DHA in the milk correlated positively with the infants' weight gain at the third month (p<0.05) and of DHA with length gain at the first and third months (p<0.01). Since the concentration of AA and, particularly, DHA in the milk declined during lactation, DHA deficiency may appear after 3-4 mo of age in breastfed Chinese rural infants. Further studies of Chinese rural mother-infant pairs are necessary to prove whether supplementation with suitable sources of AA and DHA, such as fish oil, should be recommended as lactation is lengthened to ensure optimal infant growth and development.