An insufficient human milk docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) level was reported worldwide, which leads to the question of the sufficiency of the DHA supply for infant development in the French Mediterranean area. Also, among milk lipids, phospholipids may be of high potential interest for infant brain development, being a specific vector of DHA and providing plasmalogens. We aimed to estimate the consumption of such milk compounds by preterm and term infants.

Milk samples from 22 lactating French women living in a port city, Marseille, were collected in a neonatology department from a single full-breast expression using an electric pump. Amounts of triglycerides, total phospholipids and plasmalogens, and fatty acid profile were determined by gas chromatography, and cholesterol by enzymatic assay.

Depending on the infant dietary guidelines we referred to, 46% or 82% of milk samples were below the recommended DHA level (0.4% or 0.7%), and a majority exhibited high linoleic acid/α-linolenic acid and n-6/n-3 ratios, probably resulting from high linoleic acid together with low fish and seafood products consumption. DHA carried by phospholipids in a majority of specimens met the requirements for brain development for term but not for premature infants. Milk plasmalogen levels ranged from 3.4 to 39.2  mg/L.

Our results support the recommendation of DHA supplementation to French mothers living in a Mediterranean port city, and of decreased linoleic acid intake, to reach optimal milk composition for infant health. DHA-containing phospholipids including plasmalogen species may represent important bioactive human milk compounds.