“We’re finding the difference (in white matter growth) is on the order of 20 to 30 percent, comparing the breastfed and the non-breastfed kids.”
Babies who are breastfed show signs of early brain development, particularly in regions associated with language, emotional function, and cognition.
Researchers used specialized, baby-friendly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain growth in a sample of children under the age of 4 years. By age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk.
This isn’t the first study to suggest that breastfeeding aids babies’ brain development. Behavioral studies have previously associated breastfeeding with better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults.
But this is the first imaging study that looked for differences associated with breastfeeding in the brains of very young and healthy children, says Sean Deoni, assistant professor of engineering at Brown University.
“We wanted to see how early these changes in brain development actually occur,” Deoni said. “We show that they’re there almost right off the bat.”