News article

Iron in breast milk is insufficient for growing infants

Posted:  Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Iron content of breast milk is variable

Iron is an essential micronutrient that is required for the mental and physical development of infants. Breast milk is the only source of iron for exclusively breastfed infants. However, the iron level in breast milk varies over the course of lactation. According to a new study, the iron content of breast milk may be lower than previously predicted; this is of concern to infants’ growth and development.

Cai et al., in the study published in the Maternal and Pediatric Nutrition Journal, estimated the iron content in breast milk using sensitive, analytical techniques. Breast milk samples were collected from 10 mothers of full-term infants aged 1 month and 3.5 months. The collected samples were analyzed with atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) techniques, such as flame AAS, direct sample analysis with graphite furnace AAS, and method-of-standard-additions with graphite furnace AAS.

The study results show that the iron content of milk decreased over the course of lactation. The iron content analysed using graphite furnace AAS was lower than flame AAS method in samples collected at the age of one and 3.5 months. There was no difference between the two graphite furnace AAS methods at either time point. The key observations indicated that variability in the content of iron in breast milk could be attributed to differences between analytical procedures.

Consequently, the iron concentration in human milk should be qualified by the analytical procedure and the equipment utilised for determining iron concentrations. The study findings indicate the need to closely monitor iron intake in infants, as the analysed levels of iron in breast milk may be insufficient to meet the daily requirements for iron.

News Source: Cai C, Harding SV, Friel JK. Breast Milk Iron Concentrations may be Lower than Previously Reported: Implications for Exclusively Breastfed Infants. Matern Pediatr Nutr. 2015;2(104):2.