Early infant adipose deposition is positively associated with the n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio in human milk independent of maternal BMI

Int J Obes (Lond). 2017 Apr;41(4):510-517. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2016.211. Epub 2016 Nov 23.


Background/objectives: Excessive infant weight gain in the first 6-month of life is a powerful predictor of childhood obesity and related health risks. In mice, omega-6 fatty acids (FAs) serve as potent ligands driving adipogenesis during early development. The ratio of omega-6 relative to omega-3 (n-6/n-3) FA in human milk (HM) has increased threefold over the last 30 years, but the impact of this shift on infant adipose development remains undetermined. This study investigated how maternal obesity and maternal dietary FA (as reflected in maternal red blood cells (RBCs) composition) influenced HM n-6 and n-3 FAs, and whether the HM n-6/n-3 ratio was associated with changes in infant adipose deposition between 2 weeks and 4 months postpartum.

Subjects/methods: Forty-eight infants from normal weight (NW), overweight (OW) and obese (OB) mothers were exclusively or predominantly breastfed over the first 4 months of lactation. Mid-feed HM and maternal RBC were collected at either transitional (2 weeks) or established (4 months) lactation, along with infant body composition assessed using air-displacement plethysmography. The FA composition of HM and maternal RBC was measured quantitatively by lipid mass spectrometry.

Results: In transitional and established HM, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) was lower (P=0.008; 0.005) and the arachidonic acid (AA)/DHA+eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) ratio was higher (P=0.05; 0.02) in the OB relative to the NW group. Maternal prepregnancy body mass index (BMI) and AA/DHA+EPA ratios in transitional and established HM were moderately correlated (P=0.018; 0.001). Total infant fat mass was increased in the upper AA/DHA+EPA tertile of established HM relative to the lower tertile (P=0.019). The amount of changes in infant fat mass and percentage of body fat were predicted by AA/EPA+DHA ratios in established HM (P=0.038; 0.010).

Conclusions: Perinatal infant exposures to a high AA/EPA+DHA ratio during the first 4 months of life, which is primarily reflective of maternal dietary FA, may significantly contribute to the way infants accumulate adipose.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Body Composition
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data*
  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / metabolism*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation / physiology
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Mothers*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Postpartum Period / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight Gain


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6