Premature babies develop better if they are breastfed
09/19/2018 // Michelle Simmons // Views

Here's another reason why mothers should breastfeed their babies: Breastfeeding was found to result in better brain development and lowers the risk of infections in premature babies. In a study presented during the 2017 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, researchers from the Children’s National Health System found that breast milk helps enhance the development of critical white structures in the brains of prematurely born babies.

In the study, researchers investigated the developing brains of infants, searching for biological clues to identify vulnerable premature babies in order to offer interventions that can reduce their risk of developing long-term health complications.

Premature babies typically weigh less than 1,500 grams at birth and are more likely to have neurodevelopmental problems that frequently do not fully occur until they start to go to school. In the U.S., one in 10 babies is born prematurely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To conduct the study, the researchers used modern imaging tools to analyze brain development in very low birth weight premature babies – weighing approximately three pounds at birth. For the study, the researchers enrolled 37 babies born at 32 weeks or earlier and were admitted to children’s neonatal intensive care unit within the first 48 hours of life. These infants were divided into two groups: 22 premature babies received formula designed to meet the nutritional needs of babies born preterm, while 15 babies were fed breast milk.


The researchers used leveraged diffusion tensor imaging to measure the organization of the developing white matter of the brain and 3D magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain volume by region, structure, and tissue type.

Results revealed that breastfed premature babies exhibited increased white matter microstructural organization in the brain. This indicates stronger fiber tracts and microarchitecture of the developing white matter, which may lead to better neurologic outcomes in premature babies.

“Previous research has linked early breast milk feeding with increased volumetric brain growth and improved cognitive and behavioral outcomes,” said Catherine Limperopoulus, senior author of the study.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that breastfeeding premature babies can result in better brain development than feeding them with formula milk.

Other benefits of breastfeeding

By breastfeeding, you are actually giving your child the best start to live a healthy life. It offers a lot of health benefits for your child and for you as well. Here are some of them:

  • Enhances your child's visual development – Studies show that the visual development of breastfed babies is more advanced than formula-fed babies, especially in premature infants. This may be due to breast milk's docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content, which is one of the main structural components of the retina of the eye.
  • Improves your child's facial muscle development – Breastfeeding improves the child's facial muscle development due to the suckling at the breast. Breastfed babies also have lower chances of having tooth decay because of the bacteria-fighting cells in breast milk. Babies fed with formula milk, on the other hand, have worse jaw alignment and are more at risk of dental problems as they get older.
  • Increases iron levels – It is normal for women to experience amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) for the first four to six weeks after delivery. However, moms who exclusively breastfeed can experience this twice as long as mothers who chose to bottle feed. By not menstruating, breastfeeding moms rejuvenate their iron levels which decline during pregnancy, labor, and recovery.
  • Keeps your reproductive organs healthy – Research shows that mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers. Breastfed babies also have a lower risk of childhood cancers.
  • Reduces risk of diseases – Mothers who breastfeed for at least a year are less likely to develop diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Breastfed babies also experience the same benefits. (Related: Breastfeeding can cut childhood leukemia risk by nearly one-fifth, study finds.)

Read more news stories and studies on enhancing brain development in babies by going to

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