Breastfeeding has been a hot topic for women since instant formula was created. Some women think that breastfeeding is the only way to go. Some think that it’s good for the first few months, but then formula can used, and some women only ever use formula. These reasons women have for breastfeeding or not breastfeeding are vast and varied, but most of them have to do with some type of health issue. Either they think that breast milk is the healthiest option, or they think that formula gives their baby more iron, or the mother isn’t able to breastfeed for very long and is forced to substitute breast milk for maternal health issues. It’s long been declared by pediatrics everywhere that if you’re able to, breastfeeding is probably the best option for at least three to six months. One reason why it’s recommended so highly is because breastfeeding has been known to improve your baby’s brain growth.
A study done at Brown University examined 114 children from the age of 10 months to four years old. Each child had been exclusively breastfed for at least three months. The control group used for the study was fed formula or a mix of formula and breast milk. The research team did an MRI on each child and compared the white matter microstructures, and measures of myelin water fraction. This allowed the researchers to compare the brain development of the breastfed children to the brain development of the control group.
What the team found was that the children fed exclusively on breast milk showed improved development in their brains by the age of two. In several brain regions, including the later maturing frontal region of the brain, breastfed children showed more development of brain matter which led the study to conclude that elements of breast milk promote "healthy neural growth and white matter development." The research went on to show that the longer children were breastfed, the more their brains developed.
It’s a very personal choice to breastfeed or use formula, but the health factors are very clear. If you’re unable to breastfeed your child but want to, there are actually some interesting options available for you. The Texas Children’s hospital has actually set up a breast milk donor program for underweight and preemies babies at the hospital. The milk is pasteurized before being sent back to the hospital, but even so it retains over 70% of its nutrients. In addition to Texas, there are human “milk banks” set up all across the United States for mothers unable to breastfeed their children.
- Sean C.L. Deoni, Douglas C. Dean, Irene Piryatinksy, Jonathan O'Muircheartaigh, Nicole Waskiewicz, Katie Lehman, Michelle Han, Holly Dirks. Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study. NeuroImage, 2013; DOI:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.05.090
- Brown University (2013, June 6). MRI study: Breastfeeding boosts babies' brain growth. ScienceDaily.
- Dagan, T. (2013, June 25). Breast milk improves infants brains - new research shows improved cognition in breastfed babies. Natural Health News.