BACKGROUND: Pregnancy is associated with increased absolute amounts of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) in plasma phospholipids. Expressed as a proportion of total fatty acids, DHA declines slightly in late pregnancy but little information is available on the normalization of DHA postpartum, which may be different in lactating and nonlactating women.

OBJECTIVE: The aim was to investigate maternal plasma and erythrocyte long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (long-chain polyenes; LCPs) postpartum, particularly DHA, in relation to lactation and dietary LCP intake.

DESIGN: Healthy pregnant women who intended to breast-feed or exclusively bottle-feed their infants were studied at 36-37 wk of pregnancy. Blood samples were collected at entry, after parturition on days 2 and 5, and 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 wk postpartum. Fatty acid profiles were analyzed in plasma and erythrocyte phospholipids. Dietary intakes were assessed 4 and 32 wk postpartum with a validated food-frequency questionnaire.

RESULTS: After delivery, the percentages of plasma linoleic, arachidonic, eicosapentaenoic, and docosapentaenoic acids increased over time, whereas the percentage of docosapentaenoic acid decreased; the patterns of change did not differ significantly between the lactating and nonlactating groups. The percentage of DHA in plasma and erythrocyte phospholipid fatty acids declined significantly in the 2 groups, more so in the lactating women, and was enhanced when the lactation period was extended. Despite the apparent higher dietary intake of essential fatty acids in the lactating group at week 4, it was not significantly different from that of the nonlactating group.

CONCLUSION: Normalization of maternal plasma and erythrocyte phospholipid n-3 LCPs differs significantly between lactating and nonlactating women postpartum but that of n-6 LCPs does not.

PMID: 11382662

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