MRI Shows Breastfed Babies’ Brains Develop Better/Faster than Formula or Mixed-Fed Infants

Support for the developing brain MRI images, taken while children were asleep, showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breastmilk. Images show development of myelization by age, left to right. Baby Imaging Lab/ Brown University

Support for the developing brain MRI images, taken while children were asleep, showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breastmilk. Images show development of myelization by age, left to right.
Baby Imaging Lab/ Brown University

Several weeks ago, I posted an article on how nursing facilitates the development of structures in the brain responsible for moral cognition, and a follow up article on how certain “high -touch” parenting practices (extended nursing, extravagant affection, skin-to-skin contact, “baby-wearing”, prompt response to cries) facilitate the development of the social brain.  In that latter article, I walked readers through how such parenting practices facilitate moral and social development.  This latest study from Brown University’s Baby Imaging Lab provides further, hard data exposing the myth that formula feeding is “just as good” as nursing or that short term nursing is “just as good” as extended breastfeeding.

A new study by researchers from Brown University finds more evidence that breastfeeding is good for babies’ brains.

The study made use of specialized, baby-friendly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain growth in a sample of children under the age of 4. The research found that by age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk. The extra growth was most pronounced in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function, and cognition, the research showed.

…Deoni and his team looked at 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years. All of the babies had normal gestation times, and all came from families with similar socioeconomic statuses. The researchers split the babies into three groups: those whose mothers reported they exclusively breastfed for at least three months, those fed a combination of breastmilk and formula, and those fed formula alone. The researchers compared the older kids to the younger kids to establish growth trajectories in white matter for each group.

The study showed that the exclusively breastfed group had the fastest growth in myelinated white matter of the three groups, with the increase in white matter volume becoming substantial by age 2. The group fed both breastmilk and formula had more growth than the exclusively formula-fed group, but less than the breastmilk-only group.

“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,” said Deoni. “I think it’s astounding that you could have that much difference so early.”

Deoni and his team then backed up their imaging data with a set of basic cognitive tests on the older children. Those tests found increased language performance, visual reception, and motor control performance in the breastfed group.

The study also looked at the effects of the duration of breastfeeding. The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year, and found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed longer — especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function.  READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Biology is theology.  God created our bodies in such a manner as to point to the fact that we were created for loving communion with him and one another.  Science consistently shows that when we cooperate with God’s plan for parenting by respecting the self-donative nature of the body and nursing babies through toddlerhood, we lay the groundwork for more effective social and moral reasoning.  To learn more about how the theology of the body reveals God’s plan for parenting, check our Parenting with Grace:The Catholic Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.

Incidentally, I would like to offer my congratulations to Dr. Darcia Narvaez, the author of the original article I linked on nursing and moral cognition.  She was recently named a Fellow in the American Educational Research Association.  Congratulations Dr. Narvaez! And thank you for your excellent work promoting those parenting practices that are best at facilitating children’s moral and social development.

Thanks for the Mammaries: Prolonged Breastfeeding Impacts Intelligence to Age 30, Says Lancet.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

The link between prolonged breastfeeding and intelligence is well-established but this study, published in the esteemed British medical journal, The Lancet,  is the first to show just how long the advantages given to children through extended nursing continues to impact their development.

“Our study provides the first evidence that prolonged breastfeeding not only increases intelligence until at least the age of 30 years but also has an impact both at an individual and societal level by improving educational attainment and earning ability. What is unique about this study is the fact that, in the population we studied, breastfeeding was not more common among highly educated, high-income women, but was evenly distributed by social class. Previous studies from developed countries have been criticized for failing to disentangle the effect of breastfeeding from that of socioeconomic advantage, but our work addresses this issue for the first time….”

This was huge, very well-designed study examining 3500 newborns over the course of 30 years.

“….While the study showed increased adult intelligence, longer schooling, and higher adult earnings at all duration levels of breastfeeding, the longer a child was breastfed for (up to 12 months), the greater the magnitude of the benefits. For example, an infant who had been breastfed for at least a year gained a full four IQ points (about a third of a standard deviation above the average), had 0.9 years more schooling (about a quarter of a standard deviation above the average), and a higher income of 341 reais per month (equivalent to about one third of the average income level) at the age of 30 years, compared to those breastfed for less than one month.”  READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE

In Parenting with Grace and its companion for parents of infants and toddlers, Then Comes Baby, my wife and I show how the Theology of the Body reveals God’s plan for parenting.  Pope St John Paul the Great taught that by studying and prayerfully reflecting on God’s design of the body we could learn a great deal about his plan for relationships.  The more we are willing to learn from the theology of our biology, the more we are able to receive all the benefits God wants to give us that enable us to live life as a gift.   Extraordinarily well-designed studies like this give empirical weight to the theological claims made by Pope St John Paul the Great.   By opening their hearts to both the Theology of the Body and the science that reveals the theology of our biology, we can give our children all the gifts God wants to convey to them through us and enable them to grow into men and women who can glorify God in every aspect of their lives.

Pope Francis Encourages Breastfeeding in Sistine Chapel

This past Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by baptizing 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel, NBC News reports. During the mass, the Catholic leader encouraged the

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

infants’ mothers to breastfeed their babies. “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry,” Pope Francis declared in his homily.According to Reuters, the written sermon used the Italian phrase for “give them milk,” but during his remarks, the Pope changed it to “allattateli,” which directly translates to “breastfeed them.”  READ MORE

If the reports are correct, it is remarkable (and wonderful) to me that Pope Francis actually changed the text of his sermon from “give them milk” to “breastfeed them.”

For more information on ways you can have a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your little one, check out Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood and Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Pope Francis Promotes Public Breastfeeding

Back in April, I posted a beautiful picture of, then, Cardinal Bergoglio,  blessing nursing mothers at a mass for newborns.  Yesterday, Pope Francis made a statement of public support for nursing moms and the witness they provide to the Corporal Work of Mercy that is giving food to the hungry.  In response to a question on world hunger, Pope Francis said,

“There are so many children that cry because they are hungry. At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: “Madam, I think the child’s hungry.” “Yes, it’s probably time…,” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”

David Gibson has a terrific article up about the exchange as well as links to a great article he did in the Washington Post last year on devotion to the Nursing Madonna.  It’s a beautiful reflection for Christmastime.  Check it out.

And for more thoughts on how our Catholic faith can help you be a more effective parent, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Breastfeeding is Good Healthcare for Women (Not Just Babies)

Maria Lactans (“Nursing Madonna”) Ora pro nobis.

From Time Magazine

If new moms adhered to the recommended guidelines that urge them to  breast-feed each child they give birth to for at least one year, they could  theoretically stave off up to 5,000 cases of breast cancer,  about 54,000 cases of hypertension and nearly 14,000 heart  attacks annually.

Averting those diseases could also save $860 million, according to research  published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

…Drilling deeper, the study found that less-than-optimal breast-feeding rates  took a $734 million toll in terms of hospital stays, doctor visits and  medication and cost $126 million in time away from work.