From the moment of conception, day by day, you nurture your baby inside your womb. If your baby doesn’t have the chance to fully develop inside your womb for 37 to 40 weeks, the risk of brain and other health issues is high.
A premature baby is one who is born earlier than 37 weeks gestation. These tiny babies often battle a wide range of health issues. This due to their under-developed immune system and immature organs such as the brain, lungs and heart.
If proper brain growth in preemies does not happen, then the baby is at an elevated risk for issues around learning, communication, emotional regulation, and social bonding.
Now, there’s some great news in relation to boosting brain development in preemies. According to a recent study, breastmilk boosts preemie’s brain growth. Let’s find out how.
How Does Breastmilk Boost Brain Growth in Preemies?
Cynthia Rogers is the senior investigator of the study, and an assistant professor of child psychiatry who treats patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in the USA.
She said, “The brains of babies born before their due dates usually are not fully developed, but breast milk has 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, we found that babies fed more breastmilk had larger brain volumes. This is important because several other studies have shown a correlation between brain volume and cognitive development.*”
*As per Health of Children, cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.
The Study: Brain Growth in Preemies and Breastmilk
Seventy-seven preterm infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital were studied. The goal was “to see whether it was possible to detect the impact of breastmilk on the brain this early in life and whether the benefits appeared quickly or developed over time.”
Researchers checked the amount of breastmilk fed to the babies while they were in the NICU. Then, doctors conducted brain scans.
The researchers discovered an astounding result. Premature babies with daily diets of at least 50 percent breastmilk had more brain tissue and cortical-surface area by their due dates than premature babies who consumed significantly less breastmilk!
Feeding premature babies mostly breastmilk during the first month of life appears to support more robust brain growth, compared with babies given little or no breast milk.
First author Erin Reynolds said, “As the amount of breastmilk 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.”
Rogers said further investigation is needed to determine how breastmilk affects the brain. It is also unclear what component in milk promotes brain development.
She explained that because all the babies in the study were born early, it isn’t clear whether breastmilk would provide similar benefits for babies born at full term.
The powers of breastmilk never fail to amaze us, right mums?