Skip to main content Accessibility help

Fatty acid positional distribution (sn-2 fatty acids) and phospholipid composition in Chinese breast milk from colostrum to mature stage

  • Ke Wu (a1), Runying Gao (a1), Fang Tian (a2), Yingyi Mao (a2), Bei Wang (a3), Lili Zhou (a3), Liwei Shen (a3), Yan Guan (a2) and Meiqin Cai (a1)...


This study quantified the fatty acid profile with emphasis on the stereo-specifically numbered (sn) 2 positional distribution in TAG and the composition of main phospholipids at different lactation stages. Colostrum milk (n 70), transitional milk (n 96) and mature milk (n 82) were obtained longitudinally from healthy lactating women in Shanghai. During lactation, total fatty acid content increased, with SFA dominating in fatty acid profile. A high ratio of n-6:n-3 PUFA was observed as 11:1 over lactation due to the abundance of linoleic acid in Chinese human milk. As the main SFA, palmitic acid showed absolute sn-2 selectivity, while oleic acid, linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid, the main unsaturated fatty acids, were primarily esterified at the sn-1 and sn-3 positions. Nervonic acid and C22 PUFA including DHA were more enriched in colostrum with an sn-2 positional preference. A total of three dominant phospholipids (phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), phosphatidylcholine (PC) and sphingomyelin (SM)) were analysed in the collected samples, and each showed a decline in amount over lactation. PC was the dominant compound followed by SM and PE. With prolonged breast-feeding time, percentage of PE in total phospholipids remained constant, but PC decreased, and SM increased. Results from this study indicated a lipid profile different from Western reports and may aid the development of future infant formula more suitable for Chinese babies.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding authors: Y. Guan, email; M. Cai, email


Hide All

Contributed equally to this work.



Hide All
1. Kramer, MS & Kakuma, R (2004) The optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: a systematic review. Adv Exp Med Biol 554, 6377.
2. Innis, SM (2011) Dietary triacylglycerol structure and its role in infant nutrition. Adv Nutr 2, 275283.
3. Bar-Yoseph, F, Lifshitz, Y & Cohen, T (2013) Review of sn-2 palmitate oil implications for infant health. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 89, 139143.
4. Willatts, P, Forsyth, S, Agostoni, C, et al. (2013) Effects of long-chain PUFA supplementation in infant formula on cognitive function in later childhood. Am J Clin Nutr 98, 536S542S.
5. Jumbe, T, Comstock, SS, Harris, WS, et al. (2016) Whole-blood fatty acids are associated with executive function in Tanzanian children aged 4–6 years: a cross-sectional study. Br J Nutr 116, 15371545.
6. Strandvik, B, Ntoumani, E, Lundqvist-Persson, C, et al. (2016) Long-chain saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids associate with development of premature infants up to 18 months of age. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 107, 4349.
7. Lopez-Lopez, A, Lopez-Sabater, MC, Campoy-Folgoso, C, et al. (2002) Fatty acid and sn-2 fatty acid composition in human milk from Granada (Spain) and in infant formulas. Eur J Clin Nutr 56, 12421254.
8. Haddad, I, Mozzon, M & Frega, NG (2012) Trends in fatty acids positional distribution in human colostrum, transitional, and mature milk. Eur Food Res Technol 235, 325332.
9. Jiang, T, Liu, B, Li, J, et al. (2018) Association between sn-2 fatty acid profiles of breast milk and development of the infant intestinal microbiome. Food Funct 9, 10281037.
10. Qi, C, Sun, J, Xia, Y, et al. (2018) Fatty acid profile and the sn-2 position distribution in triacylglycerols of breast milk during different lactation stages. J Agric Food Chem 66, 31183126.
11. Sun, C, Wei, W, Su, H, et al. (2018) Evaluation of sn-2 fatty acid composition in commercial infant formulas on the Chinese market: a comparative study based on fat source and stage. Food Chem 242, 2936.
12. Straarup, EM, Lauritzen, L, Faerk, J, et al. (2006) The stereospecific triacylglycerol structures and fatty acid profiles of human milk and infant formulas. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 42, 293299.
13. Cilla, A, Diego Quintaes, K, Barbera, R, et al. (2016) Phospholipids in human milk and infant formulas: benefits and needs for correct infant nutrition. Crit Rev Food Sci 56, 18801892.
14. Verardo, V, Gomez-Caravaca, AM, Arraez-Roman, D, et al. (2017) Recent advances in phospholipids from colostrum, milk and dairy by-products. Int J Mol Sci 18, 173196.
15. Sosa-Castillo, E, Rodriguez-Cruz, M & Molto-Puigmarti, C (2017) Genomics of lactation: role of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics in the fatty acid composition of human milk. Br J Nutr 118, 161168.
16. Innis, SM (2014) Impact of maternal diet on human milk composition and neurological development of infants. Am J Clin Nutr 99, 734S741S.
17. Bravi, F, Wiens, F, Decarli, A, et al. (2016) Impact of maternal nutrition on breast-milk composition: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 104, 646662.
18. Folch, J, Lees, M & Sloane Stanley, GH (1957) A simple method for the isolation and purification of total lipides from animal tissues. J Biol Chem 226, 497509.
19. Luddy, FE, Barford, RA, Herb, SF, et al. (1964) Pancreatic lipase hydrolysis of triglycerides by a semimicro technique. J Am Oil Chem Soc 41, 693696.
20. López-López, A, Castellote-Bargalló, AI & López-Sabater, MC (2001) Comparison of two direct methods for the determination of fatty acids in human milk. Chromatographia 54, 743747.
21. Urwin, HJ, Zhang, J, Gao, Y, et al. (2013) Immune factors and fatty acid composition in human milk from river/lake, coastal and inland regions of China. Br J Nutr 109, 19491961.
22. Giuffrida, F, Cruz-Hernandez, C, Bertschy, E, et al. (2016) Temporal changes of human breast milk lipids of Chinese mothers. Nutrients 8, 715733.
23. Jiang, J, Wu, K, Yu, Z, et al. (2016) Changes in fatty acid composition of human milk over lactation stages and relationship with dietary intake in Chinese women. Food Funct 7, 31543162.
24. Yuhas, R, Pramuk, K & Lien, EL (2006) Human milk fatty acid composition from nine countries varies most in DHA. Lipids 41, 851858.
25. Kim, H, Kang, S, Jung, BM, et al. (2017) Breast milk fatty acid composition and fatty acid intake of lactating mothers in South Korea. Br J Nutr 117, 556561.
26. Miles, EA & Calder, PC (2017) The influence of the position of palmitate in infant formula triacylglycerols on health outcomes. Nutr Res 44, 18.
27. Grote, V, Verduci, E, Scaglioni, S, et al. (2016) Breast milk composition and infant nutrient intakes during the first 12 months of life. Eur J Clin Nutr 70, 250256.
28. Jensen, RG (1999) Lipids in human milk. Lipids 34, 12431271.
29. Li, J, Fan, Y, Zhang, Z, et al. (2009) Evaluating the trans fatty acid, CLA, PUFA and erucic acid diversity in human milk from five regions in China. Lipids 44, 257271.
30. Chung, MY (2014) Factors affecting human milk composition. Pediatr Neonatol 55, 421422.
31. Allhaud, G, Guesnet, P & Cunnane, SC (2008) An emerging risk factor for obesity: does disequilibrium of polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism contribute to excessive adipose tissue development? Br J Nutr 100, 461470.
32. Nwaru, BI, Erkkola, M, Lumia, M, et al. (2012) Maternal intake of fatty acids during pregnancy and allergies in the offspring. Br J Nutr 108, 720732.
33. Andrade-da-Costa, B, Isaac, A, Silva, E, et al. (2017) Low omega 6/omega 3 fatty acid ratio in maternal diet favors leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) gene transcription in the offspring’s neural cells. Glia 65, E250E250.
34. Tu, A, Ma, Q, Bai, H, et al. (2017) A comparative study of triacylglycerol composition in Chinese human milk within different lactation stages and imported infant formula by SFC coupled with Q-TOF-MS. Food Chem 221, 555567.
35. Haddad, I, Mozzon, M, Strabbioli, R, et al. (2012) A comparative study of the composition of triacylglycerol molecular species in equine and human milks. Dairy Sci Technol 92, 3756.
36. Dyall, SC (2015) Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Front Aging Neurosci 7, 5266.
37. Christensen, MS, Hoy, CE, Becker, CC, et al. (1995) Intestinal absorption and lymphatic transport of eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA), and decanoic acids: dependence on intramolecular triacylglycerol structure. Am J Clin Nutr 61, 5661.
38. Cruz-Hernandez, C, Thakkar, SK, Moulin, J, et al. (2012) Benefits of structured and free monoacylglycerols to deliver eicosapentaenoic (EPA) in a model of lipid malabsorption. Nutrients 4, 17811793.
39. Wijesundera, C (2008) The influence of triacylglycerol structure on the oxidative stability of polyunsaturated oils. Lipid Technol 20, 199202.
40. Christensen, MM & Hoy, CE (1997) Early dietary intervention with structured triacylglycerols containing docosahexaenoic acid. Effect on brain, liver, and adipose tissue lipids. Lipids 32, 185191.
41. Christensen, MM, Lund, SP, Simonsen, L, et al. (1998) Dietary structured triacylglycerols containing docosahexaenoic acid given from birth affect visual and auditory performance and tissue fatty acid profiles of rats. J Nutr 128, 10111017.
42. Bitman, J, Wood, DL, Mehta, NR, et al. (1984) Comparison of the phospholipid composition of breast milk from mothers of term and preterm infants during lactation. Am J Clin Nutr 40, 11031119.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Wu et al. supplementary material
Tables S1-S2

 Word (23 KB)
23 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed