British Journal of Nutrition

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Intakes and breast-milk concentrations of essential fatty acids are low among Bangladeshi women with 24–48-month-old children

Elizabeth A. Yakesa1a2 c1, Joanne E. Arsenaulta1, M. Munirul Islama3, Mohammad B. Hossaina3, Tahmeed Ahmeda3, J. Bruce Germana4, Laura A. Gilliesa4, Ahmed Shafiqur Rahmana3, Christiana Drakea2a5, Kazi M. Jamila3, Bess L. Lewisa6 and Kenneth H. Browna1a2

a1 Department of Nutrition, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA

a2 Graduate Group in Epidemiology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA

a3 International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDR,B), Dhaka, Bangladesh

a4 Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA

a5 Department of Statistics, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA

a6 International Agricultural Development Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA


Maternal fat intake and adipose reserves are major sources of PUFA during lactation. The present study examined the cross-sectional relationship between prolonged breast-feeding and maternal BMI, assessed adequacy of fat intake among lactating and non-lactating mothers of children 24–48 months of age and determined breast-milk fatty acid composition. Multi-stage sampling was used to select a representative sample of mothers from two rural districts in Bangladesh (n 474). Dietary data were collected during two non-consecutive 24 h periods via 12 h in-home daytime observations and recall. The National Cancer Institute method for episodically consumed foods was used to estimate usual intake distributions. Breast milk samples were collected from ninety-eight women, and breast-milk fatty acid methyl esters were quantified using GC. Approximately 42 % of lactating v. 26 % of non-lactating mothers were underweight (BMI < 18·5 kg/m2; P = 0·0003). The maternal diet was low in total fat (approximately 8 % of mean total energy) and food sources of PUFA, including oil and animal source foods, resulting in a low estimated mean total consumption of PUFA (5·1 g/d). Almost all women were estimated to consume less than the recommended intake levels for total fat, total PUFA, α-linolenic acid (ALA) and DHA. Median breast-milk linoleic acid (8·5 % weight) and ALA (0·2 %) concentrations were among the lowest reported in the literature, in contrast with arachidonic acid (0·5 %) and DHA (0·3 %) concentrations, which were mid-range. Bangladeshi women in general, and especially those who practise prolonged breast-feeding, may benefit from increased consumption of food sources of PUFA.

(Received May 17 2010)

(Revised October 26 2010)

(Accepted November 01 2010)

(Online publication February 16 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: E. A. Yakes, fax +1 530 752 3406, email


Abbreviations: ALA, α-linolenic acid; ARA, arachidonic acid; EFA, essential fatty acid; FAME, fatty acid methyl ester; ICDDR,B, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh; LA, linoleic acid; SES, socio-economic status