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Breastfeeding builds better brains

Pre-term babies fed more breast milk in the first 28 days of life have a larger volume of gray matter, a better IQ, academic achievement in memory and motor function by age 7.


A new study has followed 180 pre-term infants from birth to age seven, to find that babies fed more breast milk within their first 28 days of life have larger brain volumes and better IQs and motor function by age 7.

The findings were published in The Journal of Pediatrics.


"Our data support current recommendations for using mother's milk to feed preterm babies during their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalization.

"This is not only important for moms, but also for hospitals, employers, and friends and family members, so they can provide the support needed during this time when mothers are under stress and working so hard to produce milk for their babies."


Mandy Brown Belfort MD, Department of Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusets, USA and lead author.


Researchers studied infants born before 30 weeks gestation, or pre-term, enrolled in the VIBeS: Victorian Infant Brain Studies from 2001-2003. The infants received breast milk for more than 50 percent of their nutrition from birth to 28 days. They also reviewed each baby's regional brain volume — as measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — beginning at each baby's approximate full-term birthdate and then again at seven years old, for cognition (IQ, reading, mathematics, attention, working memory, language, visual perception) and motor testing.

Their findings show that all infants who predominantly received breast milk while hospitalized in the NICU (Neonatal Infant Care Unit) had larger deep nuclear gray matter volume. This area of the brain is important for processing and transmitting neural signals to other parts of the brain.


"Many mothers of preterm babies have difficulty providing breast milk for their babies. We need to work hard to ensure that these mothers have the best possible support systems in place to maximize their ability to meet their own feeding goals. But, it is also important to note there are many factors influencing a baby's development, with breast milk being just one."

Mandy Brown Belfort, MD


Researchers are aware of the study's limitation, it was largely observational. Although they adjusted for factors such as differences in maternal education, some results could possibly be explained by factors not measured, such as greater maternal involvement in infant care.

Belfort adds that future studies could provide more specific information of ways in which human milk intake influences structure and function of the brain. Future work is needed to untangle the role of breastfeeding from maternal care and nurturing as it affects the development of a preterm brain.

Abstract
Objectives
To determine the associations of breast milk intake after birth with neurological outcomes at term equivalent and 7 years of age in very preterm infants

Study design
We studied 180 infants born at <30 weeks' gestation or <1250 grams birth weight enrolled in the Victorian Infant Brain Studies cohort from 2001-2003. We calculated the number of days on which infants received >50% of enteral intake as breast milk from 0-28 days of life. Outcomes included brain volumes measured by magnetic resonance imaging at term equivalent and 7 years of age, and cognitive (IQ, reading, mathematics, attention, working memory, language, visual perception) and motor testing at 7 years of age. We adjusted for age, sex, social risk, and neonatal illness in linear regression.

Results
A greater number of days on which infants received >50% breast milk was associated with greater deep nuclear gray matter volume at term equivalent age (0.15 cc/d; 95% CI, 0.05-0.25); and with better performance at age 7 years of age on IQ (0.5 points/d; 95% CI, 0.2-0.8), mathematics (0.5; 95% CI, 0.1-0.9), working memory (0.5; 95% CI, 0.1-0.9), and motor function (0.1; 95% CI, 0.0-0.2) tests. No differences in regional brain volumes at 7 years of age in relation to breast milk intake were observed.

Conclusion
Predominant breast milk feeding in the first 28 days of life was associated with a greater deep nuclear gray matter volume at term equivalent age and better IQ, academic achievement, working memory, and motor function at 7 years of age in very preterm infants.

Funding was provided by the Australia's National Health & Medical Research Council, National Institutes of Health (HD058056), United Cerebral Palsy Foundation (USA), Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation (USA), the Brown Foundation (USA), the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program, and The Royal Children's Hospital Foundation. VAN was supported by the Cambridge Commonwealth Travelling Bursary, St. John's College, Cambridge; Mary Euphrasia Mosley and Sir Bartle Frere Fund; Lord Mayor's 800th Anniversary Awards Trust; Nichol Young Foundation; and the Worts Travelling Scholars' Award.
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Aug 2, 2016   Fetal Timeline   Maternal Timeline   News   News Archive   

preterm infant fed breast milk through a syringe

Overall, pre-term infants receiing breast milk performed better
cognitively than other children by age seven
Image Credit:Nursng Nurture


 


 

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