Breastfeeding = better brain development than formula

Community Leader
Registered: 10-01-2010
Breastfeeding = better brain development than formula
10
Fri, 06-07-2013 - 5:19pm

MRI Study: Breastfeeding Boosts Babies' Brain Growth

June 6, 2013 — A study using brain images from "quiet" MRI machines adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding improves brain development in infants. Breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula, which produced better development than formula alone.

A new study by researchers from Brown University finds more evidence that breastfeeding is good for babies' brains.

The study made use of specialized, baby-friendly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain growth in a sample of children under the age of 4. The research found that by age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk. The extra growth was most pronounced in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function, and cognition, the research showed.

This isn't the first study to suggest that breastfeeding aids babies' brain development. Behavioral studies have previously associated breastfeeding with better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults. But this is the first imaging study that looked for differences associated with breastfeeding in the brains of very young and healthy children, said Sean Deoni, assistant professor of engineering at Brown and the study's lead author.

"We wanted to see how early these changes in brain development actually occur," Deoni said. "We show that they're there almost right off the bat."

The findings are in press in the journal NeuroImage and available now online.

Deoni leads Brown's Advanced Baby Imaging Lab. He and his colleagues use quiet MRI machines that image babies' brains as they sleep. The MRI technique Deoni has developed looks at the microstructure of the brain's white matter, the tissue that contains long nerve fibers and helps different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Specifically, the technique looks for amounts of myelin, the fatty material that insulates nerve fibers and speeds electrical signals as they zip around the brain.

Deoni and his team looked at 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years. All of the babies had normal gestation times, and all came from families with similar socioeconomic statuses. The researchers split the babies into three groups: those whose mothers reported they exclusively breastfed for at least three months, those fed a combination of breastmilk and formula, and those fed formula alone. The researchers compared the older kids to the younger kids to establish growth trajectories in white matter for each group.

The study showed that the exclusively breastfed group had the fastest growth in myelinated white matter of the three groups, with the increase in white matter volume becoming substantial by age 2. The group fed both breastmilk and formula had more growth than the exclusively formula-fed group, but less than the breastmilk-only group.

"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."

Deoni and his team then backed up their imaging data with a set of basic cognitive tests on the older children. Those tests found increased language performance, visual reception, and motor control performance in the breastfed group.

The study also looked at the effects of the duration of breastfeeding. The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year, and 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.

Other authors on the study were Douglas Dean, Irene Piryatinsky, Jonathan O'Muircheartaigh, Lindsay Walker, Nicole Waskiewicz, Katie Lehman, Michelle Han and Holly Dirks, who all work with Deoni in the Baby Imaging Lab. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130606141048.htm

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006

No, I am suggesting that the report claims breastfeeding increases brain function AND reduces weight.

Some snip-its:

"This meta-analysis suggests that breastfeeding is associated with increased performance in intelligence tests in childhood and adolescence, of 3.5 points on average. Maternal IQ is an important confounder, but it accounts for only part of this association – even among those studies that adjusted for maternal intelligence, breastfeeding was associated with an additional 2.19 IQ points. The two existing randomized trial on this issue also reported significant benefits of breastfeeding, suggesting that this association is causal."

 AND

"Our conclusion is that the meta-analysis of higher-quality studies suggests a small reduction, of about 10%, in the prevalence of overweight or obesity in children exposed to longer durations of breastfeeding."

 AND

"The evidence suggests that breastfeeding may have a protective effect against type-2 diabetes, particularly among adolescents. Obesity/overweight seems to account for part of the association."

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-01-2002

nisupulla wrote:
<p><a href="http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/79198/1/9789241505307_eng.pdf" rel="nofollow">systematic review from the World Health Organization</a></p><p>Am I reading this right? The 2013 WHO review of breastfeeding finds that the link between intelligence and breastfeeding and the link between overweight and breastfeeding are strong? Hasn't the IQ thing been poo-pooed since 2007? How often is overweight brought up in the debate a real issue?</p>

I didn't know we get to cherry-pick.  Are you saying there's a link between breastfeeding and intelligence but not to overweight children?

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006

systematic review from the World Health Organization

Am I reading this right? The 2013 WHO review of breastfeeding finds that the link between intelligence and breastfeeding and the link between overweight and breastfeeding are strong? Hasn't the IQ thing been poo-pooed since 2007? How often is overweight brought up in the debate a real issue?

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006

I don't know why it would be "unkind" to say that formula fed babies' brain growth is inhibited. Breastfeeding is normal. Breastfeeding is the baseline. If the brain growth of formula fed infants differs from the normal baseline, then stating that is not insensitive.

Using formula fed infants as baseline, OTOH, is convoluted. Formula is not the baseline, it is the deviation from biological basis. The numbers of infants fed formula in any given country does not alter the fact that breastfeeding IS the standard.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006

>>Obviously, that's impossible to test<<

Similarly, it is impossible to take a single human being and have him/her exercise regularly through out life and compare that to having lived a couch potato life. [No offense to my fellow couch potatoes,] No matter. If you test groups of similarly matched people and compare them based on level of exercise, the exercisers will be more healthy on the whole. Ditto for breastfeeding. It's not rocket science.

>>That's not just stating it another way.  That's a completely different way of testing,<<

Huh? I'm not sure what you mean.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-01-2002

<<Breastfeeding a child makes that child smarter than that child might have been if that child had been formula fed.>>

Obviously, that's impossible to test.  You can't take the same baby and both 1.) breastfeed it, and 2.) not breastfeed it.  So, that little Johnny is smarter because of 3 months of bf'ing is still just a wish, a fervent plea among select breastfeeding moms.

<<Or, stated another way, take a bunch of similar babies, breastfeed half of them, formula feed the other half and on the whole, the breastfed group will be smarter. The differences are not great, but they are measurable>>

That's not just stating it another way.  That's a completely different way of testing, like I mentioned; let's see in countries where exclusive breastfeeding for years is the norm if the pre-schoolers are smarter.  That's an excellent control group if anyone wants to give full credit to breastfeeding.


iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006

>>children in some countries are breastfed thru toddlerhood.  Are they smarter than kids in the US by pre-school age?  End of story.<<

It sounds as if you think that the study is trying to assert that "breastfed children" are smarter than "formula fed children".

In that case, I agree with you. It is silly to think that breastfeeding a child makes that child smarter than formula fed children.

Sadly, many people dismiss breastfeeding studies based on that very premise. Breastfeeding a child makes that child smarter than that child might have been if that child had been formula fed. Or, stated another way, take a bunch of similar babies, breastfeed half of them, formula feed the other half and on the whole, the breastfed group will be smarter. The differences are not great, but they are measurable. Rouglhy, the increase in "smarts" between breastfed and bottlefed infants is about the same as the the difference between the "smarts" between infants whose mothers used cocaine during pregnancy and the the mothers who did not use cocaine during pregnancy. The difference in both cases is much less than the difference between the "smarts" of infants born to mothers who did not imbibe in alcohol during pregnancy and mothers who indulged in alcohol during pregnancy. Counterintuitive that cocaine is less bad than alcohol, Similarly, for some, it is counterintuitive to think that breastfeeding is less bad than formula feeding. Go figure. 

So, getting back to the point, babies breastfed through toddlerhood (as a group) are "smarter" than babies who were not breastfed enough (as a group). However, the comparison between one baby and any another baby is silly.

KWIM?

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-01-2002

witch_power wrote:
<p>Karen posted on Facebook: Shouldn't that be "Formula feeding inhibits babies' brain growth"??</p>

No, because that's sort of unkind and neglects the fact that most babies in the US are formula fed.  Many moms  go back to work in the US.   And many women who don't return to work, can't breastfeed.  Formula is perfectly fine.  They should use a better control group ~ children in some countries are breastfed thru toddlerhood.  Are they smarter than kids in the US by pre-school age?  End of story.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-01-2002

I'm just laughing at the thought of quiet MRIs being done on 133 children ages 10 months up to age 4 years.  They could not have tested my children at those ages!  But if they say it's proof positive 3 months of breastfeeding makes such a marked difference, okay.  Whatever.  Poor babies! 

Community Leader
Registered: 10-01-2010

Karen posted on Facebook: Shouldn't that be "Formula feeding inhibits babies' brain growth"??