Parents, take note. When fed mostly breast milk during the first month of life, premature babies have larger brains, suggests a new study. Studying preterm infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the researchers found that preemies whose daily diets were at least 50 percent breast milk had more brain tissue and cortical-surface area by their due dates than premature babies who consumed significantly less breast milk. (Read: Protein in breast milk can destroy antibiotic resistant superbugs)
Senior investigator Cynthia Rogers said that the brains of babies born before their due dates usually are not fully developed. But breast milk has been shown to be helpful in other areas of development, so we looked to see what effect it might have on the brain. With MRI scans, the researchers found that babies fed more breast milk had larger brain volumes. This is important because several other studies have shown a correlation between brain volume and cognitive development. (Read: 8 ways breastfeeding keeps the mother healthy)
First author Erin Reynolds noted, ‘As the amount of breast milk increased, so did a baby’s chances of having a larger cortical surface area. The cortex is the part of the brain associated with cognition, so we assume that more cortex will help improve cognition as the babies grow and develop.’ The researchers will present their findings at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, in Baltimore. Read to know how breast feeding reduces the risk of cancer.