Breast milk sure has a lot of health benefits for babies. According to a new research, babies born before their due date show better brain development when fed breast milk rather than formula milk. Premature birth has been linked to an increased possibility of problems with learning and thinking skills in later life, which are thought to be linked to alterations in brain development. Experts say that helping mothers to provide breast milk in the weeks after giving birth could improve long-term outcomes for children born pre-term.
Studies have shown that pre-term birth is associated with changes in the part of the brain’s structure that helps brain cells to communicate with one another, known as white matter. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied MRI brain scans from 47 babies from a study group known as the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort.
The babies had been born before 33 weeks gestation and scans took place when they reached a term-equivalent age, an average of 40 weeks from conception. The team also collected information about how the infants had been fed while in intensive care – either formula milk or breast milk from either the mother or a donor.
Babies who exclusively received breast milk for at least three-quarters of the days they spent in the hospital showed improved brain connectivity compared with others. The effects were greatest in babies who were fed breast milk for a greater proportion of their time spent in intensive care. “Our findings suggest that brain development in the weeks after preterm birth is improved in babies who receive greater amounts of breast milk,” said study author James Boardman.
“Mothers of pre-term babies should be supported to provide breast milk while their baby is in neonatal care — if they are able to and if their baby is well enough to receive milk because this may give their children the best chance of healthy brain development,” added Boardman.
The study appeared in the Journal of NeuroImage.