How Breastfeeding Can Aid Your Baby’s Brain Development, Growth, and Immunity

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Breastfeeding doesn’t turn every baby into a genius, but it does positively impact brain development. Breastfeeding is a good example of parenting from the inside out.

Breastfeeding also strengthens the right side of the brain (i.e., the emotional side). For instance, the proximity between the baby and the mother during breastfeeding helps the mother and child bond. It also helps the baby feel secure by reducing stress hormones that negatively impact brain development.

There are also nutrients in breast milk that promote brain growth and development and protect the baby from infections.

Breast milk may impact early brain development, with potentially important biologic, medical, and social implications. —UCL Researchers

Here is a summary of how breastfeeding can support and promote growth and development in the body as well as the brain and how breastfeeding is a means of parenting from the inside out.

Breast Milk Promotes Emotional Development in the Brain.

Breastfeeding allows babies to be held closely, giving them skin-to-skin contact that helps them feel physically secure and cared for. Breast milk digests rapidly, so babies are held often. Close physical contact helps develop the emotional side of the brain.

Furthermore, the baby is able to focus on the mother’s voice, face and features, and smell, so breastfeeding helps develop the baby’s five senses. Since the baby remembers the mother’s voice from the womb, breastfeeding triggers the baby’s memories. The mother’s ability to communicate with and caress the baby is a way of parenting from the inside out.

Close and interactive contact gives babies the stimulus they need to thrive. They are also able to strengthen their eye contact and grip. Mothers can also caress, talk to, or sing to their babies while breastfeeding in order to familiarize them with early vocabulary and promote language development.

Breast Milk Promotes Physical Growth and Development in the Brain.

Some research findings show that “breast milk constituents promote healthy neural growth and white matter development.”

Breast milk comprises long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which aid in the production of myelin. Myelin is a protective layer of fat that encapsulates nerve fibers. Myelin insulates the nerves and allows them to carry information from one area of the body to another. The enzymes and hormones contained in breast milk also help neurons grow at a faster pace.

In addition, there is an important omega-3 fatty acid in the brain called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This fatty acid contributes to the growth and development of brain tissues. Breast milk is also rich in cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat that helps in the development of nerve tissue in the brain. The fatty acids also protect the baby from infections.

The lactose in breast milk is a simple sugar that gets synthesized into glucose and galactose, which aid in brain development. In contrast to breast milk, infant formula only has vegetable fat, table sugar, and corn syrup.

Breast Milk Helps White Matter Growth in the Brain.

The brain is made up of white matter and gray matter. Half of the total brain matter consists of white matter, and the rest is gray matter. The white matter is situated beneath the cerebral and cerebellar gray matter areas, and it includes myelinated axons, which act as communication pathways throughout the brain and help the gray matter areas communicate with one another.

Essentially, white matter helps a person not only develop into a healthy human being, but it also safeguards him or her from neurological disorders.

Some groundbreaking research discovered that “breast milk optimizes white matter microstructural organization throughout the entire brain—including both hemispheres of the cerebrum and cerebellum—more effectively than formula.”

Breastfeeding Leads to Higher IQ in Infants.

A majority of research studies have also established a link between breastfeeding and higher IQ and cognitive skills in later years. As one research study points out, “one or more constituents of breast milk facilitate cognitive development, particularly in preterms.”

Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding – A Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash

Other research found that “Prior morphometric brain imaging studies support these findings, revealing increased white matter and subcortical gray matter volume, and parietal lobe cortical thickness, associated with IQ, in adolescents who were breastfed as infants compared to those who were exclusively formula-fed.”

So, parenting from the inside out can actually help your baby become smarter.

Breastfeeding Leads to Better Immunity.

Breast milk is rich in antibodies, immune enzymes, and white blood cells; therefore, it provides better immunity for babies. Breastfed babies are more resilient against stomach bugs and the flu as well as chest and ear infections than formula-fed babies.

Some research describes the negative effects of untimely discontinued breastfeeding as follows: “If immune system development is significantly improved with the introduction of components of breast milk, then prematurely discontinued breastfeeding may facilitate pathogenesis of many chronic diseases later in life (e.g., autoimmune disorders).”

Breastfeeding is not just a means of providing nutrition for infants, but it also ensures that babies’ brains get the best possible start and are able to thrive. Breastfeeding is not just a baby’s right, but it is also a way for the mother to practice parenting from the inside out

Breastfeeding is beneficial not only for the baby but also for the mother because, during breastfeeding, there is a release of oxytocin that enables the breast milk to flow evenly and reduces feelings of stress, fear, and depression in the mother.  Evidence also suggests that breastfed babies are smarter as well as physically and emotionally stronger than their bottle-fed counterparts.

References

  1. Deoni, Sean CL, Douglas C. Dean III, Irene Piryatinsky, Jonathan O’muircheartaigh, Nicole Waskiewicz, Katie Lehman, Michelle Han, and Holly Dirks. “Breastfeeding and Early White Matter Development: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Neuroimage 82 (2013): 77–86. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com
  2. Isaacs, Elizabeth B., Bruce R. Fischl, Brian T. Quinn, Wui K. Chong, David G. Gadian, and Alan Lucas. “Impact of Breast Milk on Intelligence Quotient, Brain Size, and White Matter Development.” Pediatric Research 67, no. 4 (2010): 357. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com
  3. Jackson, Kelly M., and Andrea M. Nazar. “Breastfeeding, the Immune Response, and Long-Term Health.” The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 106, no. 4 (2006): 203–207. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com
  4. Ottolini, K., Andescavage, N., Kapse, K., & Limperopoulos, C. “Impact of Breastmilk on Brain Microstructural Development in VLBW (Very Low Birth Weight) Infants.” Paper presented at the the 2017 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, San Francisco, Location of Conference, May 7, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com

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