Normal lactating mothers were administered a single dose of 60 or 210 mg beta-carotene and changes in serum and milk retinol, alpha-tocopherol, and carotenoids were monitored for 8 d. Average serum beta-carotene concentrations increased 4.1- and 4.0-fold after the 60- and 210-mg doses, respectively. Milk beta-carotene concentrations increased 4.1- and 3.0-fold after the 60- and 210-mg doses, respectively. Maximum serum concentrations were reached 24 h after both supplements, although concentrations of milk beta-carotene continued to rise for 2-3 d. After 8 d, both serum and milk beta-carotene continued to rise for 2-3 d. After 8 d, both serum and milk beta-carotene concentrations remained about twofold higher than baseline concentrations. Increases in serum or milk beta-carotene concentrations were not dose-dependent. Initial serum and milk concentrations of beta-carotene predicted increases after supplementation, and increases in serum beta-carotene concentrations predicted those in milk. Concentrations of milk carotenoids were less than one-tenth their respective concentrations in serum. Lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, alpha-carotene, retinol, and alpha-tocopherol concentrations in serum or milk did not change significantly after beta-carotene supplementation. Retinol esters account for most of the retinol equivalents in the milk of well-nourished mothers. Initial and maximum concentrations of beta-carotene in serum and milk were strongly correlated for individual mothers. Collectively, the data showed that a single 60-mg supplement of beta-carotene sustained elevated beta-carotene concentrations in serum and milk for > 1 wk in normal mothers but did not affect concentrations of other major carotenoids, retinol, or alpha-tocopherol.