The Link between Breast Feeding and Cognitive Power

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A recent study in the UK, led by Amanda Sacker of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, showed that breastfeeding can positively affect a kid’s mental aptitude in terms of vocabulary and reasoning at age five, compared to those who weren’t breastfed. They also found out that preemies (prematurely born babies) showed the biggest difference with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has long been considered as a healthy practice because of the benefits that it can give to a baby. Among others, breast milk contains maternal antibodies which provide babies temporary immunity from diseases they may acquire during infancy. Breast milk also contains nutrients which are essential in the baby’s growth and development in the extra-uterine environment. Brain function is one of the concepts which most researchers link with breast feeding, however, because of the lack of research and studies attempted at answering this query, most people remain unsure about it.

Sacker gave three possibilities or reasons why breast feeding lead to a more enhanced brain function of a baby. First, she mentioned that breast milk contains fatty acids which are essential in cell development, including the brain cells and neurons. Second reason is that there are natural hormones and growth factors available in breast milk which cannot be found in formula feedings. And third, Sacker mentioned the psychosocial effect of breastfeeding since most babies being cuddled are at a better advantage than those who are not breastfed.

The researchers shared, on the other hand, that the study was broad and that it didn’t take into account the background of the parents, like their IQ or what-not, which may affect the baby’s cognitive abilities. But then, Sacker pointed out that their study pointed out to a cause and effect relationship.

The study included 12,000 babies born in the UK between 2000 and 2002. These kids were revisited at nine months old and parents were asked whether the babies were breastfed, and until what age were they breastfed. At five years old, these kids were engaged in vocabulary, reasoning and spatial skills. Out of each ten babies, 6 or 7 were breastfed at one point in time.

Generally, kids who were breastfed, regardless of their being preemies or born on time, showed better performance in the test. Those kids born on time and have been breastfed for four to six months did better than those who weren’t breastfed, on vocabulary and reasoning skills. Preemie kids who were breastfed for about two months also did better than other preemies who were not breastfed.

Sacker told Reuters Health that although the differences may be small, it shows an important finding that the gap between breastfed preemies and non-breastfed preemies tend to get wider as they grow old.

In a separate interview, Dr. McCormick, a pediatrician at the University of Texas said that apart from brain advancement, breastfeeding indeed has a lot to offer like better immunity, body development and other bodily functions.

SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics, online August 11, 2011.



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