DHA and children’s IQ


Human milk contains nutrients needed for infant health and development, and other components that protect against infection and inflammation, and contribute to the immune system maturation and organ development. Its composition varies from colostrum to late lactation, within feeds, between mothers, and also between term and preterm infants.

The production of human milk has different stages:

  • From mid pregnancy to delivery, breasts undergo many changes necessary for proper breastfeeding.
  • The first fluid produced by mothers after delivery is colostrum, which is rich in immunologic components and developmental factors.
  • The onset of copious milk secretion occurs day 2 or 3 to day 8 after birth (although it can be delayed in preterm delivery and obese mothers).
  • 9 days after birth, milk production remains constant and by 4 to 6 weeks postpartum, it is considered fully mature.
  • Around 40 days after last breastfeeding, milk secretion is progressively reduced.

The nutritional components of human milk derive from three sources: some originate by synthesis in the lactocyte (a milk-producing cell in the mammary epithelium), some are dietary in origin, and some originate from maternal stores. Some milk characteristics can be modified through diet in order to optimize infant growth and health. For example, maternal diet influences the DHA content of milk, which is below recommended levels in many mothers; maternal supplementation with 1 g of DHA daily significantly increases milk DHA levels, which in turn improves the dietary DHA of breastfed infants.

Duration of breastfeeding and colostrum fatty acids levels are associated with children’s intellectual quotien (IQ). Children that have received colostrum with high levels of linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and low levels of DHA seem to have lower IQs scores at age 5-6 years than those that have received colostrum with high levels of DHA. These data show the role of early DHA intake on childhood cognition.