Infants have a high requirement for EFAs to acheive healthy growth and the development, including their brain and nervous system.
Two fatty acids, in particular, have been identified as being important for infants, the Omega-3 DHA (DocosaHexaenoic Acid) and the Omega-6 AA (Arachidonic Acid).
DHA is obtained from cold water oily fish or algae in the diet, or is made in the body from ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acis), the most plentiful fatty acid in Flaxseed Oil.
DHA constitutes 50% of the fatty acid content of the retina and 25% of total fatty acids in the grey matter of the brain, the highest concentrations of DHA of any tissue in the body. The demand for DHA is highest during the latter part of pregnancy and the first few months of infancy.
The developing foetus obtains its supply of EFAs from the mother via the placenta. It is, therefore, necessary for pregnant women to consume sufficient Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids for their own health maintenance and for the developing baby. Ideally, this should also be done as part of a woman's pre-conception care.
After birth, infants obtain EFAs from breastmilk or quality infant formulas. Premature babies appear to have a greater need for EFAs than full-term babies.
The main Omega-3 fatty acid in breast milk is ALA, the EFA found in flaxseed. Studies have shown that breast milk contains 3-10 times more ALA than DHA, depending on the mother's diet.
Research suggests that infant formula is not as good for babies as breast milk. The best approach for pregnant and nursing mothers is to eat a varied diet containing sufficient ALA, DHA and other Omega-3 fats.