Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human milk and brain growth during early infancy

Acta Paediatr. 2000 Feb;89(2):142-7. doi: 10.1080/080352500750028735.


Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential for growth and development, and their crucial role in the development of the central nervous system and in retinal function has been the subject of many studies. As the balance between n-6 and n-3 fatty acids has to be optimal, their concentrations in the milk given to infants who are exclusively breastfed is of major importance. In this study, the composition of fatty acids in mothers' milk and the growth rate of the infant brain were analysed. Nineteen mother-term infant pairs from Stockholm, Sweden, were studied from birth to 1 mo and 3 mo of age, during which time the infants were breastfed exclusively. The dietary intake of the mothers was calculated and found to concur with the recommended daily dietary allowances of Swedish lactating women as regards energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates. The amounts of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid in the diet were similar to those reported for European and North American women. The ratio between arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the milk from Swedish mothers is approximately the same as in the brain of infants, and was found to be positively correlated with the rate of gain of the occipito-frontal head circumference and of the calculated brain weight at 1 mo (p < 0.01) and 3 mo (p < 0.01) of age, respectively. However, further studies are needed to establish the exact requirements of AA and DHA for optimal growth and development during early infancy in exclusively breastfed infants.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anthropometry
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Breast Feeding
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated