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  • How Breast Milk Promotes Healthy Brain Growth May Have Finally Been Explained

    Preemie babies in particular benefits from breast milk when it comes to their brain development.
    by Rachel Perez .
How Breast Milk Promotes Healthy Brain Growth May Have Finally Been Explained
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Breast milk has already been proven as the best first nutrition a baby needs and acts as his primary immunization due to the antibodies it contains. Many studies have shown the positive effects of breast milk on a child’s brain, and this new study could explain the link between the two.

    Research-clinicians observed babies who had very low birth weight, about less than 3.3 pounds, and were born at only 32 weeks of gestation or earlier. They were admitted at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in their first week of life at Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C.

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    To see the how milk could affect a baby's brain, the researchers used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a non-invasive imaging technique that describes the chemical composition of specific brain structures that allowed them to measure metabolites essential for growth.

    Here are their observations between babies who were fed breast milk and those who were fed formula:

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    • Cerebral white matter spectra showed significantly higher levels of inositol — a molecule similar to glucose, which is essential for normal activity, growth and development — for babies fed breast milk, compared with babies fed formula.
    • Cerebellar spectra had significantly higher creatine levels for breastfed babies compared with infants fed formula. Creatine is a substance that helps muscles produce energy during to function as they should.
    • The percentage of days infants were fed breast milk was associated with significantly higher levels of both creatine and choline, a water-soluble nutrient that’s essential for metabolism.

    “Key metabolite levels ramp up during the times babies’ brains experience exponential growth,” says study lead author Katherine M. Ottolini via a press release. Infants who were fed breast milk had higher metabolites essential to trigger the body’s chemical reactions for optimum brain growth and development.

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    The new technology, the proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, is a massive step to understanding infant brain development and implementing early interventions, if and when necessary. The researchers only included preemie babies, but breast milk could have a similar effect in full-term babies as well.

    The study may have compared breast milk and formula milk, but nowhere did the researchers note that the latter doesn't contribute to developing babies' brain.

    Your takeaway? Aside from having more information to decide how you want to feed your baby, donate breast milk if you can. The Philippines is one of the top 10 countries with the highest premature births, according to the World Health Organization. For many premature babies, breast milk is what they need to survive.

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