Premature babies who predominantly receive their nutrition from breastfeeding have higher IQs in later life, than those who do not

Premature babies which are breastfed during their first month have higher IQs later in life, research has suggested.

The infants have been found to have larger volumes of certain brain regions at term equivalent and have better IQs, academic achievement, working memory and motor function.

Research, published in The Journal of Paediatrics, followed 180 premature infants from birth until they turned seven. They identified babies which had received breast milk as more than 50 per cent of their nutritional intake from birth to 28 days of life. 

This information was subsequently cross referenced with data related to regional brain volumes measured by MRI scans at each baby’s term equivalent age and again at seven years old. They conducted further analysis on cognitive capabilities, including IQ, reading, maths, attention, working memory, language and visual perception.

They found infants who received predominantly breast milk had larger deep nuclear grey matter. By seven, the children performed better on cognitive tests, having better memory, higher IQs and greater grasp of maths.

The researchers added that other factors may involved, including social and environmental issues which the study may not have identified. While the study focused on pre-term babies, it is not known how precisely the results could impact on or relate to other babies.

Researcher Mandy Brown Belfort said: “Many mothers of preterm babies have difficulty providing breast milk for their babies, and we need to work hard to ensure that these mothers have the best possible support systems in place to maximize their ability to meet their own feeding goals. It's also important to note that there are so many factors that influence a baby's development, with breast milk being just one.”

She added: “Our data support current recommendations for using mother's milk to feed preterm babies during their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalization. This is not only important for moms, but also for hospitals, employers, and friends and family members, so that they can provide the support that's needed during this time when mothers are under stress and working so hard to produce milk for their babies.”

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