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DHA Supplements for Mom Good for Preemies

Leads to higher levels in breast milk of fatty acid that promotes brain development, researchers find

SATURDAY, May 1 (HealthDay News) -- Very premature infants have higher levels of DHA -- an omega-3 fatty acid that's essential to the growth and development of the brain -- when their breast-feeding mothers take DHA supplements, Canadian researchers have found.

Researchers say a deficiency in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is common in very preterm infants, possibly because the ordinary diets of many pregnant or breast-feeding women lack the essential fatty acid, which is found in cold water fatty fish and fish oil supplements.

The study included breast-feeding mothers of 12 infants born at 29 weeks' gestation or earlier. The mothers were given high doses of DHA supplements until 36 weeks after conception. The mothers and babies in this intervention group were compared at day 49 to a control group of mothers of very preterm infants who didn't take DHA supplements.

The levels of DHA in the breast milk of mothers who took DHA supplements were nearly 12 times higher than in the milk of mothers in the control group. Infants in the intervention group received about seven times more DHA than those in the control group. Plasma DHA concentrations in mothers and babies in the intervention group were two to three times higher than those in the control group.

"Our study has shown that supplementing mothers is a feasible and effective way of providing DHA to low birthweight premature infants," study author Dr. Isabelle Marc, an assistant professor in the pediatrics department at Laval University in Quebec, said in a news release.

The DHA content in the breast milk of mothers who don't consume fish during the breast-feeding period is probably insufficient, according to Marc. "Our results underline the urgent need for recommendations addressing dietary DHA intake during lactation of mothers of very preterm infants to reach optimal DHA level in milk to be delivered to the baby for optimal growth and neurodevelopment," she concluded.

The findings were presented Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about premature birth.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, May 1, 2010

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