OBJECTIVE: We investigated how cod liver oil influences the amount of essential fatty acids in mothers' breast milk.

DESIGN AND INTERVENTION: Lactating mothers (n =22) were randomized into four groups 3-8 weeks after parturition. They were supplemented for 14 days with 0, 2.5, 5 and 10 ml cod liver oil (7.7 g eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3), 10.2 g docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and 22.9 g n-3 fatty acids in total per 100 ml.

RESULTS: In maternal plasma phospholipids there was an increase in the content of EPA and DHA in the group supplemented with 10 ml cod liver oil daily (P < or = 0.05). DHA concentrations in breast milk pre-supplementation ranged from 0.15 to 1.56 wt% and increased in all supplemented groups (P< or =0.05). The concentration of EPA in breast milk increased in the groups supplemented with 5 or 10 ml cod liver oil (P< or =0.05), whereas the concentration of arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6) did not change in any of the supplemented groups. Total intake of DHA adjusted to body mass index (BMI), correlated to DHA concentrations in plasma (r = 0.49, P = 0.02) and breast milk (r = 0.45, P = 0.04). The concentration of tocopherol did not change during the supplementation period, neither in plasma nor in breast milk.

CONCLUSION: Dietary intake of DHA is reflected in the concentration of DHA in breast milk, without affecting the concentration of AA or tocopherol.