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Breastfeeding builds better brains
A new study has followed 180 pre-term infants from birth to age seven, to find that babies fed more breast milk within their first 28 days of life have larger brain volumes and better IQs and motor function by age 7.
The findings were published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Researchers studied infants born before 30 weeks gestation, or pre-term, enrolled in the VIBeS: Victorian Infant Brain Studies from 2001-2003. The infants received breast milk for more than 50 percent of their nutrition from birth to 28 days. They also reviewed each baby's regional brain volume — as measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — beginning at each baby's approximate full-term birthdate and then again at seven years old, for cognition (IQ, reading, mathematics, attention, working memory, language, visual perception) and motor testing.
Their findings show that all infants who predominantly received breast milk while hospitalized in the NICU (Neonatal Infant Care Unit) had larger deep nuclear gray matter volume. This area of the brain is important for processing and transmitting neural signals to other parts of the brain.
Researchers are aware of the study's limitation, it was largely observational. Although they adjusted for factors such as differences in maternal education, some results could possibly be explained by factors not measured, such as greater maternal involvement in infant care.
Belfort adds that future studies could provide more specific information of ways in which human milk intake influences structure and function of the brain. Future work is needed to untangle the role of breastfeeding from maternal care and nurturing as it affects the development of a preterm brain.
Funding was provided by the Australia's National Health & Medical Research Council, National Institutes of Health (HD058056), United Cerebral Palsy Foundation (USA), Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation (USA), the Brown Foundation (USA), the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program, and The Royal Children's Hospital Foundation. VAN was supported by the Cambridge Commonwealth Travelling Bursary, St. John's College, Cambridge; Mary Euphrasia Mosley and Sir Bartle Frere Fund; Lord Mayor's 800th Anniversary Awards Trust; Nichol Young Foundation; and the Worts Travelling Scholars' Award.
Overall, pre-term infants receiing breast milk performed better
cognitively than other children by age seven
Image Credit:Nursng Nurture