There has never been a more interesting time in the world of taking pictures of babies developing brains.
"A study using brain images from “quiet” MRI machines adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding improves brain development in infants. Breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula, which produced better development than formula alone."
Pretty fascinating research article that has hard cold facts about the benefits of what your child eats has an impact on their brain development through the primitive years of life.
Support for the developing brain
Above are the MRI images, which showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breastmilk.
Images show development of myelization by age 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, left to right.
A total of 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years were included in the study. All of the babies had normal gestation times, and all came from families with similar socioeconomic statuses. The researchers split the babies into three groups: those whose mothers reported they exclusively breastfed for at least three months, those fed a combination of breastmilk and formula, and those fed formula alone. The researchers compared the older kids to the younger kids to establish growth trajectories in white matter for each group.
The MRI technique specifically looked at the microstructure of the brain’s white matter in the cerebral cortex housing long nerve fibers and helps different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Specifically, the technique looks for amount of myelin development in youngsters.
Changes “almost right off the bat”
Mean myelin content — the fatty material that insulates nerve fibers and speeds electrical signals — rises with breastfeeding. The changes to developing brains happen early, almost from the start.
"The study showed that the exclusively breastfed group had the fastest growth in myelinated white matter of the three groups, with the increase in white matter volume becoming substantial by age 2. The group fed both breastmilk and formula had more growth than the exclusively formula-fed group, but less than the breastmilk-only group." Extra growth was most pronounced in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function, and cognition, the research showed.
"The study also looked at the effects of the duration of breastfeeding. The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year, and found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed longer — especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function." .