Breastfeeding is best for the development of a baby’s brain, new research has found
Breastfeeding alone results in better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula or formula feed alone.
The longer the baby is breast-fed the greater the improvement, the study showed.
Researchers looked at the brain growth in a sample of children under the age of four.
The team found that by the age of 2years babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key areas of the brain.
This compared to children who were exclusively fed formula or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk.
The extra brain growth was most pronounced in the parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function and cognition.
Behavioural studies have previously associated breastfeeding with better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults.
This, however, is the first study using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scans to look at the brains of very young and healthy children.
Prof Sean Deoni, leads the university’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab at Brown University
He and his colleagues use quiet MRI machines that image babies’ brains as they sleep.
Deoni and his team looked at 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years and studied the brain white matter tissue that helps parts of the brain communicate with each other.
“We’re finding the difference [in white matter growth] is on the order of 20 to 30 percent, comparing the breastfed and the non-breastfed kids,” said Deoni.
“I think it’s astounding that you could have that much difference so early.”
The study showed that the exclusively breastfed group had the fastest growth in myelinated white matter of the three groups.
The increase in white matter volume became substantial by the age of 2years
The group fed both breastmilk and formula had more growth than the exclusively formula-fed group, but less than the breastmilk-only group.
Deoni and his team then backed up their imaging data with a set of basic cognitive tests on the older children which found increased language performance, visual reception, and motor control performance in the breastfed group.
The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year.
They found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed longer — especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function.
Deoni says the findings add to a substantial body of research that finds positive associations between breastfeeding and children’s brain health.
“I think I would argue that combined with all the other evidence, it seems like breastfeeding is absolutely beneficial,” he said.