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1. Long-term variations in breast-milk fat concentration of mothers feeding on demand were studied in 120 rural West African women over a 12-month period.
2. The over-all mean 12 h breast-milk fat concentration was 39.3 g/l.
3. Mean breast-milk fat concentrations were affected by season in a manner which was correlated with seasonal changes in maternal subcutaneous fat stores (P > 0.05) but which was unrelated to seasonal variations in maternal energy intake and breast-milk output.
4. Breast-milk fat concentrations were highest in early lactation, decreasing to a constant level during the first year.
5. There was significantly greater between-mother than within-mother variation in breast-milk fat concentrations measured in successive months, after correcting for season and stage of lactation (P > 0.001).
6. Breast-milk fat concentrations were highest for primiparous mothers, decreasing to a constant level at parity 4 and higher.
7. A mother's relative breast-milk fat concentration was not correlated with her levels of dietary energy intake and breast-milk output but was positively correlated with her relative subcutaneous fat deposits (P > 0.01).
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