Breastfeeding is essential for babies. During the first months, the little one receives the mother’s antibodies through breast milk, which protect him from different diseases. Breast milk also provides all the nutrients it needs to grow and helps strengthen the emotional bond between mother and baby. To make matters worse, breastfeeding is also essential for the development of the baby’s brain.
Breastfeeding helps children go further in life and enhances intelligence
Breastfed babies are more likely to become adults with a higher level of education and a good income, according to a study in Brazil that followed nearly 6,000 babies from birth to 30 years. This research has provided, for the first time, a clearer idea of the long-term effects of breastfeeding.
After interviewing the adults and testing them to assess their IQ, the researchers found that those who had been breastfed went further in their studies and showed greater intelligence. Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced the longer breastfeeding lasted.
Children who had been breastfed for 12 months had an IQ 4 points higher than those who had been breastfed for less than a month, had reached one more year of schooling and earned an average of 70 additional euros per month, which in Brazil represents a one-third more than the median income level.
The most interesting thing about this study is that the people analyzed came from different social classes, so the babies who had been breastfed for longer and went further in their studies did not necessarily come from better-off households.
Why is breastfeeding so beneficial for cognitive functions?
The answer comes from the hand of another study, this time conducted at Brown University , which used magnetic resonance imaging to assess brain growth in children under 4 years of age. The researchers found that, at 2 years, babies who had been exclusively breastfed for at least three months showed greater development in some key areas of the brain, compared to children who were exclusively formula-fed or who had a mixed lactation . That growth was most evident in the parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function and cognition.
These neuroscientists analyzed 133 babies between the ages of 10 months and four years, who came from families with similar socioeconomic status. They analyzed the microstructure of the brain’s white matter, the tissue that contains long nerve fibers and facilitates communication with areas of gray matter found in the cerebral cortex. In fact, the white matter plays an essential role in the development of a healthy brain, to avoid the appearance of neurological disorders.
These researchers were looking at the amount of myelin, which is the fatty material found in white matter and insulates nerve fibers by speeding up the transmission of electrical signals as they travel through the brain. They found that the group that was breastfed showed a 20-30% increase in the volume of white matter and myelin.
This is likely due, at least in part, to the nutritional value of breast milk, which is very rich in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are essential for brain growth. As a result, it is understandable that breastfed babies show increased development of some cognitive skills, an advantage that they can retain even into adulthood.