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High doses of omega-3 fatty acids may support pre-term infant growth

Published on

11 April 2011

Increased intake of docosahexaenoic acid in baby formula or breast milk is safe and may benefit the growth of the pre-term infants, says a new Australian study.

In the randomized controlled trial, 657 infants born before the 33rd week of pregnancy were randomly assigned to one of four groups (1): Two groups received breast milk and two received formula. One of the groups receiving breast milk and one receiving formula were given a standard docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) dose (0.2-0.3 percent of dietary fatty acids). The other two groups received a higher DHA dose (approx.
1 percent of dietary fatty acids). The feeding experiment was conducted from between two and five days after the pre-term babies were born and continued up to the due date that they had been scheduled to be born. The study results showed that, at 18 months of age, the infants fed the higher dose of DHA were, on average, about 0.7 cm longer and had a greater growth rate in the size of their heads than the babies fed the standard DHA dose. In addition, the trial showed that high dietary intake of DHA has no adverse effects of the growth of premature infants.

The researchers noted that the small difference in head growth was associated with a modest but noticeable increase in the mental development. However, it was not clear if this difference can be considered clinically significant. The association should be further investigated.


  1. Collins C. T. et al. Pre- and post-term growth in pre-term infants supplemented with higher-dose DHA:
    a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition. 2011.

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