In milk from mothers delivering preterm babies there is a rapid reduction of omega fatty acids


Human milk provides the optimal nutrition for term infants, it is the safest and healthiest food for babies, it is easily digested and provides all the nutrients they need for the first six months. The milk changes constantly (in volume and composition) to meet babies’ needs according to the time of day, nursing frequency, and age of baby. Breast milk helps keep babies healthies and has long-term benefits: it supplies all the necessary nutrients in the proper proportions, and protects child against allergies, infections, diseases, and obesity. Besides, babies who breastfeed have better mental development (they score higher on Intelligence Quotient Tests) and emotional security, have healthier weights as they grow, and they also have better tooth development and stronger immune systems (breastfeeding protects infants from childhood and adolescence illnesses).

Human milk is also recommended for preterm infants, but does not alone provide optimal nutrition. Milk from women who deliver prematurely (prior to 37 weeks gestation) differs from that of women who deliver at term. Preterm milk is initially higher in protein, fat, amino acids, and sodium, but over the first few weeks following delivery these levels decrease (the mineral content of preterm milk is similar to that of “term milk”, with some exceptions). A recent research has shown that, besides, in milk from mothers delivering extremely preterm babies there is a rapid reduction in long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids content during the lactation period. Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (both belonging to the omega-3 family), and arachidonic acid (an omega-6), are important nutrients for the development of the infant nervous system.

This emphasises the importance of supplementation with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to infants born extremely preterm, at least during the period corresponding to the third trimester of pregnancy, when rapid development of the brain and adipose tissue requires high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids.


Nilsson AK, Löfqvist C, Najm S, et al. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids decline rapidly in milk from mothers delivering extremely preterm indicating the need for supplementation. Acta Paediatr. 2018 Feb 14. [Epub ahead of print]

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