Zinc Transfer to the Breastfed Infant

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Zinc is a micronutrient which is critical tonormal growth and development. Zinc concentrations inhuman milk decline sharply during the early months postpartum, regardless of maternal zinc intake. Milk zinc concentrations do not increase in responseto increased maternal zinc intake if maternal zincstatus is adequate. The mechanism of zinc secretion intomilk is not fully understood. A mutation in the gene for a zinc transporter protein may accountfor abnormally low milk zinc concentrations associatedwith severe zinc deficiency in breastfed infants. Thezinc requirements of breastfed infants are generally met with exclusive breastfeeding through 5-6months of age, due to the favorable bioavailability ofthe zinc in human milk. Because of declining milk zincconcentrations and intake, zinc status in exclusively breastfed infants is likely to become marginalbeyond 6 months of age, and may become suboptimal forsome infants if exclusive breastfeeding continues. Thechoice of complementary foods is important to maintain adequate zinc status in breastfedinfants after 6 months.