Nutrients in Breast Milk Contribute to Neural Development

Submitted by Marsha Newsom on Thu, 02/04/2010 - 22:26

While the disease fighting benefits of breast milk are well known, studies have now shown that breastfed infants grow into smarter children. Part of this is due to the mental stimulation that comes from the interaction with Mom during feeding. During the first two years of life, a baby's brain growth rapidly. Brain cells called neurons grow every time an infant interacts with his/her environment. The quality of the experience of breastfeeding, with its skin-to-skin contact, is more interesting than infant gets from being bottle fed.

Nutrients and Breast Milk

However important the environmental factor, the nutritional quality of breast milk has a more significant impact on an infant's neural development. Breast milk has fatty acids, cholesterol and lactose sugars that cannot be duplicated in manufactured formula. These nutrients are critical to the development of an infant's brain.

The fatty acid DHA (docasahexaenoic acid) is critical to the growth, development and maintenance of brain tissue. Autopsy studies of infant brains show significantly higher concentrations of DHA. The longer the child was breast fed, the higher the DHA level. 1

Cholesterol is another fat needed for brain development. It provides the basic components for growing neural tissue in the brain. Although breast milk contains a lot of cholesterol, infant formulas contain none.

Beneficial Sugar

Lactose is the main sugar in breast milk. The infant's body breaks lactose into glucose and galactose. Galactose is a valuable nutrient for brain tissue development. Some cow's milk formulas contain lactose, although not at the levels found in human breast milk. Other formulas use corn syrup or table sugar, neither of which has the same benefit of lactose.

The benefits to an infants intellectual development are significant and long term. In a study of hundreds of children, those who were breastfed scored seven to ten points higher than formula fed infants on I.Q. Tests. Children who were breastfed get higher grades in school, even after taking into account other influences on performance. The longer an infant is breastfed, the higher the scores. 2


photo by Anderen over Ellywa


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