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How Breastfeeding Helps Brain Growth in Premature Babies

May 02, 2016 02:22 PM EDT

It is widely known that babies born weeks before their due date tend to have smaller underdeveloped brains, and a new study suggests that breastfeeding premature babies can greatly help in boosting brain growth.

According to the study presented in the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, premature babies who have consumed 50 percent of breast milk in their daily diet has more brain tissues and cortical-surface area compared to those premature babies who received significantly less breast milk or no breast milk at all.

For the study, researchers observed the daily diet of 77 preterm infants being taken care at Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children's Hospital. With the help of a MRI scan, researchers take a peak in the brain volume of each baby during the time they are supposed to be born. All babies included in the study are about at least 10 weeks early, with an average gestation of 26 weeks, or about 14 weeks premature.

Because researchers only looked at the effect of breast milk on brain growth, they didn't distinguish the biological mother's breast milk from that donated by other mothers.

The researchers discovered that the amount of breast milk consumed by premature babies is proportional to increase in brain volume. This means that the higher the amount of breast milk consumed the higher the chances of having a larger cortical surface area.

According to a press release, the result of the study is very significant in the field of pediatrics. Neurological problem and cognitive difficulty are linked to brain volume. The researchers plan to follow the infants included in the study to determine the effects of early exposure to breast milk on later developmental outcomes, such as motor, cognitive and social development.

Because the study is focused on the effects of breast milk in infants born prematurely, additional research is necessary to know if breast milk posses the same benefits for babies born at full term.

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