MUNICH, GERMANY. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is vital for the proper development of an infant's brain and retina. DHA must be supplied through mother's milk or infant formula as the infant itself is unable to synthesize it from other dietary sources such as flax oil. The docosahexaenoic acid content of human milk varies from 0.05% in vegetarian women to 1.40% in Inuit women. An average level in omnivorous women is about 0.3% by weight. It is assumed that a mother's diet affects the composition of her breast milk, but few specific studies of the transfer of DHA to breast milk has been made so far.
Researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universitat now report that an increased dietary intake of docosahexaenoic acid by a lactating woman results in a proportional increase in her breast milk. Their study involved 10 lactating women who between week 4 and 6 postpartum supplemented with either 200 mg of DHA per day or 200 mg of a corn/soy oil mixture (placebo oil). At the end of the 2 weeks the docosahexaenoic acid content of the milk from the DHA-supplemented mothers had increased by 28% while the docosahexaenoic acid content in the milk from the mothers in the placebo group had decreased by 25%. In other words, after 2 weeks the DHA content in the milk from DHA-supplemented mothers was almost twice as high as in the milk from the mothers in the placebo group. There were no significant differences in the amount of milk produced per day by the 2 groups. Editor's note: Supplementation with DHA would be particularly important for lactating mothers who are vegetarian.
Fidler, Natasa, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid transfer into human milk after dietary supplementation: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Lipid Research, Vol. 41, September 2000, pp. 1376-83