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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: CLINICAL NUTRITION IN CHILDREN

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: Docosahexaenoic acid and lactation

Authors
item Jensen, Craig -
item Lipillonne, Alexandre -

Submitted to: Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: February 1, 2009
Publication Date: August 1, 2009
Citation: Jensen, C.L., Lipillonne, A. 2009. Docosahexaenoic acid and lactation. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 81(2-3):175-178.

Interpretive Summary: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important part of structures in the retina, and brain, and accumulates rapidly in these tissues during early infancy. DHA is present in human milk, but the amount varies considerably and depends on the mother’s diet. The optimal amount of DHA in breast milk is not known. In this article, the results of studies assessing the impact of breast milk DHA content (or intake of DHA by breastfeeding mothers) on infant visual function, mental development, and immune status were reviewed. Studies of the possible effects of DHA intake on depression, or mental function of breastfeeding mothers also were reviewed. This review found that, although study results have not been consistent, better infant neurodevelopment and/or visual function have been reported with higher compared to lower levels of breast milk DHA. This has potential implications for both the consumer and industry since increasing breast milk DHA content above that typically found in the US, by increasing maternal DHA intake, may confer benefits to breast-fed infants.

Technical Abstract: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important component of membrane phospholipids in the retina, and brain, and accumulates rapidly in these tissues during early infancy. DHA is present in human milk, but the amount varies considerably and is largely dependent on maternal diet. This article reviews data addressing the impact of different DHA intakes by lactating women on infant and maternal outcomes to determine, if available data are sufficient to estimate optimal breast milk DHA content and estimate dietary reference intakes (DRIs) for DHA by breast-feeding mothers. Results of published observational studies and interventional trials assessing the impact of maternal DHA intake (or breast milk DHA content) on infant visual function, neurodevelopment, and immunologic status were reviewed. Studies related to the potential impact of DHA intake on depression, or cognitive function of lactating women also were reviewed. Although only a limited number of studies are available in the current medical literature, and study results have not been consistent, better infant neurodevelopment and/or visual function have been reported with higher vs. lower levels of breast milk DHA. The effect of DHA intake on the incidence or severity of depression in lactating women is not clear. Increasing breast milk DHA content above that typically found in the US, by increasing maternal DHA intake, may confer neurodevelopmental benefits to the recipient breast-fed infant. However, current data are insufficient to permit determination of specific DRIs during this period.

Last Modified: 9/21/2014
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