Breast Milk Boosts Brain Growth in Premature Babies

The importance of breast milk is something established. Still, science insists on finding more about the benefits thereof. A new study has, thus, found signs of enhanced brain growth in premature babies feeding on mostly breast milk in their first month than in those having little to no breast milk. The findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, in Baltimore, tomorrow, May 3.


When the team of researchers studied preterm babies from St Louis Children’s Hospital (they were born at least 10 weeks earlier), they found that those with breast milk accounting for at least 50% of their daily diet had more brain tissue and cortical-surface area at their due dates than premature infants who drank much less breast milk. Study author Cynthia Rogers explains that they noticed the larger brain volumes in MRI scans.

Another finding is that the greater amount of breast milk consumed, the greater the chance of the baby to develop a larger cortical surface area. This region of the brain is linked with cognition, and this result suggests that a greater development of the cortex will be associated with enhanced cognition.

It is to be noted that premature babies will generally display differences in their brain development from babies having reached their due dates; this is why preterm children are at risk of having neurological problems because of their usually smaller brains. In this case, breast milk is shown to be specially useful to them. Also, the breast milk consumed by the infants who ‘participated’ in the study did not always come from their own mother; in some cases, the milk was donated by other women. So, this study does not make the distinction between the two categories, and only concentrates on breast milk in general.

The next step for the researchers will be to follow these babies throughout their first year to study their growth, and cognitive and social development. The researchers want to do so because they believe the future developmental effects of consuming breast milk at an early age will be made obvious.

While the study exposes the beneficial effects of breast milk on the brain development of premature babies, it does not, however, explain how this relationship is established. The authors write that more research will have to be done to understand as to how does breast milk influence brain development.

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