Influence of maternal and socioeconomic factors on breast milk fatty acid composition in urban, low-income families

Uma Nayak, Suman Kanungo, Dadong Zhang, E. Ross Colgate, Marya P. Carmolli, Ayan Dey, Masud Alam, Byomkesh Manna, Ranjan Kumar Nandy, Deok Ryun Kim, Dilip Kumar Paul, Saugato Choudhury, Sushama Sahoo, William S. Harris, Thomas F. Wierzba, Tahmeed Ahmed, Beth D. Kirkpatrick, Rashidul Haque, William A. Petri, Josyf C. Mychaleckyj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The lipid composition of breast milk may have a significant impact on early infant growth and cognitive development. Comprehensive breast milk data is lacking from low-income populations in the Indian subcontinent impeding assessment of deficiencies and limiting development of maternal nutritional interventions. A single breast milk specimen was collected within 6 weeks postpartum from two low-income maternal cohorts of exclusively breastfed infants, from Dhaka, Bangladesh (n = 683) and Kolkata, India (n = 372) and assayed for percentage composition of 26 fatty acids. Mature milk (>15 days) in Dhaka (n = 99) compared to Kolkata (n = 372) was higher in total saturated fatty acid (SFA; mean 48% vs. 44%) and disproportionately lower in ω3-polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), hence the ω6- and ω3-PUFA ratio in Dhaka were almost double the value in Kolkata. In both sites, after adjusting for days of lactation, increased maternal education was associated with decreased SFA and PUFA, and increasing birth order or total pregnancies was associated with decreasing ω6-PUFA or ω3-PUFA by a factor of 0.95 for each birth and pregnancy. In Dhaka, household prosperity was associated with decreased SFA and PUFA and increased ω6- and ω3-PUFA. Maternal height was associated with increased SFA and PUFA in Kolkata (1% increase per 1 cm), but body mass index showed no independent association with either ratio in either cohort. In summary, the socioeconomic factors of maternal education and household prosperity were associated with breast milk composition, although prosperity may only be important in higher cost of living communities. Associated maternal biological factors were height and infant birth order, but not adiposity. Further study is needed to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of these effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12423
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • anthropometry
  • breast milk
  • infant growth
  • low-income countries
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • socioeconomic factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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