If you need an added incentive to breastfeed, what about this: it may lead to brainier babies, according to new research. New babies given only breast milk for at least three months, have up to 30% extra growth in the parts of the brain that control language, emotion and understanding.
A US study found that children under four who were exclusively breastfed for the first few months of their lives had a clear advantage when it came to brain development.
Scientists discovered that by the time the babies turned two, an obvious difference could be seen in their brain structure. MRI scans were studied to see how much white matter their brains contained. This tissue is full of nerve fibres that link the different parts of the brain used for learning.
Babies given formula had the least white matter, while those exclusively breastfed had up to 30% more.
The longer the babies were fed with breast milk, the more developed their brains were, especially in areas associated with movement and co-ordination.
The researchers backed up the results with cognitive tests, showing language, motor control and visual reception were all better in the breastfed children.
The scientist in charge of the study, Dr Sean Deoni, says they were surprised to find such a difference between babies given breast milk and formula.
For your baby:
• It provides them with the nutrients and protective antibodies they need.
• Breast milk can help protect from meningitis and chest, ear and urine infections.
• It reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
• Breast milk may protect against chronic tummy problems and some cancers. Your baby may also be less likely to get eczema or asthma.
• Breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes later in life.
• Breastfeeding assists your recovery after the birth.
• Skin-to-skin contact helps bonding with your baby.
• Reduces your risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.
• Can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and hip fracture. [Source: Ministry of Health]
We could do better, According to statistics collected by Plunket, who provide care for around 90% of all newborns in New Zealand, 85% of the babies they see are receiving some breast milk at six weeks.
That’s good, but we could feed our babies for longer. Until 2010, only 19-21% of European babies are still fully breastfed at six months, with those figures down to 17-18% of Pacific babies and 13-14% of Maori infants.
The Ministry of Health recommends exclusively breastfeeding for around six months. Babies don’t need any other fluids and foods before then, although once they get to six months, they’ll require solids to get other nutrients.