Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP) are thought to be required for optimal nervous system development in the newborn. A commercial milk formula containing LCP (Aptamil-LCP) with a fatty acid profile closely resembling breast milk, has recently been introduced for term infants. The absorption of fatty acids in term infants was examined in a double-blind randomized controlled trial comparing Aptamil-LCP (n = 20) and standard Aptamil (n = 20). Formula-fed newborn infants were studied from birth for 14 d. Fat balances (3 d) were performed from d 10. A 3-d stool collection was performed from d 10 in a parallel breastfed group (n = 21). Plasma samples were taken on d 6. Median fat excretion (mg kg[-1]) was 897.1, 615.0 and 355.2 with Aptamil, Aptamil-LCP and breastfeeding, respectively. The median total fat absorption coefficient in Aptamil-LCP-fed infants was higher than in those fed standard Aptamil (p < 0.01). These findings were accounted for by differences in the excretion and absorption of long-chain saturated fatty acids (C14:0, C16:0 and C18:0). Higher fat excretion was associated with bulkier and firmer stools. Only trace amounts of LCP were detected in the stools of all groups. This accounted for less than 4% of dietary intake in Aptamil-LCP-fed infants. No differences in the utilization of LCP from Aptamil-LCP and breast milk feeding were apparent. Plasma phospholipid fatty acid composition data reflected differences in dietary LCP intake. Thus, PL LCP levels were highest in the breastfed infants and lowest in the Aptamil-fed infants, with values for the Aptamil-LCP-fed group falling in between.