• Vol. 39 No. 9, 675–679
  • 15 September 2010

The Influence of Maternal Ethnic Group and Diet on Breast Milk Fatty Acid Composition



Introduction: Breast milk fatty acids play a major role in infant development. However, no data have compared the breast milk composition of different ethnic groups living in the same environment. We aimed to (i) investigate breast milk fatty acid composition of three ethnic groups in Singapore and (ii) determine dietary fatty acid patterns in these groups and any association with breast milk fatty acid composition.

Materials and Methods: This was a prospective study conducted at a tertiary hospital in Singapore. Healthy pregnant women with the intention to breastfeed were recruited. Diet profile was studied using a standard validated 3-day food diary. Breast milk was collected from mothers at 1 to 2 weeks and 6 to 8 weeks postnatally. Agilent gas chromatograph (6870N) equipped with a mass spectrometer (5975) and an automatic liquid sampler (ALS) system with a split mode was used for analysis.

Results: Seventy-two breast milk samples were obtained from 52 subjects. Analysis showed that breast milk ETA (Eicosatetraenoic acid) and ETA:EA (Eicosatrienoic acid) ratio were significantly different among the races (P = 0.031 and P = 0.020), with ETA being the highest among Indians and the lowest among Malays. Docosahexaenoic acid was significantly higher among Chinese compared to Indians and Malays. No difference was demonstrated in n3 and n6 levels in the food diet analysis among the 3 ethnic groups.

Conclusions: Differences exist in breast milk fatty acid composition in different ethnic groups in the same region, although no difference was demonstrated in the diet analysis. Factors other than maternal diet may play a role in breast milk fatty acid composition.

Human milk is the ideal food which provides the complete nutritional requirements for infants during the first 6 months of life. The lipids accumulated in an infant represent the majority of all energy retained in the growing tissues during this crucial period of rapid growth and development.

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