Fatty acid patterns early after premature birth, simultaneously analysed in mothers' food, breast milk and serum phospholipids of mothers and infants

Lipids Health Dis. 2009 Jun 10;8:20. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-8-20.


Background: The supply of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids via the placenta is interrupted in premature infants, making them exclusively dependent on breast milk, which varies in fatty acid (FA) concentrations depending on the mother's diet.

Objective: To in a longitudinal study explore the relation between FA status in mothers and infants from an unselected cohort of prematures, not requiring intensive care.

Design: Breast milk and mothers' and infants' plasma phospholipid FA concentrations from birth to 44 weeks of gestational age were analysed and compared with mothers' food intake, assessed using a 3-day diary. Fatty acids were analysed by capillary gas-liquid chromatography.

Results: The energy intake was low in 75% of mothers, and 90% had low intake of essential FAs (EFAs). Dietary linoleic acid (LA, 18:2w6), but not w3 FAs, correlated to concentrations in breast milk. Infants' plasma and breast milk correlated for arachidonic (AA, 20:4w6), eicosapentaenoic (EPA, 20:5w3) and docosahexaenoic (DHA, 22:6w3) acids. A high concentration of mead acid (20:3w9) in the infants at birth correlated negatively to the concentrations of LA, AA and w3 FAs. Infants of mothers who stopped breastfeeding during the study period showed decreased DHA concentrations and increased w6/w3 ratios, with the opposite FA pattern seen in the mothers' plasma.

Conclusion: Although dietary w3 FAs were insufficient in an unselected cohort of mothers of premature infants, breastfeeding resulted in increased levels of DHA in the premature infants at the expense of the mothers, suggesting a general need to increase dietary w3 FAs during pregnancy and lactation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Feeding
  • Diet*
  • Fatty Acids / analysis*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Analysis
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / blood*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / physiology*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Mothers
  • Parity
  • Phospholipids / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / blood*
  • Umbilical Cord / chemistry


  • Fatty Acids
  • Phospholipids