Breastfeeding Linked to Higher Neurocognitive Testing Scores

Summary: All mothers are aware that breastfeeding provides certain advantages over bottle feeding for babies. A new study reveals children who were breastfed as infants, even for a short period of time, performed better at cognitive tests at age ten than their bottle-fed peers.

Source: University of Rochester

New research finds that children who were breastfed scored higher on neurocognitive tests. Researchers in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) analyzed thousands of cognitive tests taken by nine and ten-year-olds whose mothers reported they were breastfed, and compared those results to scores of children who were not.

“Our findings suggest that any amount of breastfeeding has a positive cognitive impact, even after just a few months.” Daniel Adan Lopez, Ph.D. candidate in the Epidemiology program who is first author on the study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

“That’s what’s exciting about these results. Hopefully from a policy standpoint, this can help improve the motivation to breastfeed.”

Hayley Martin, Ph.D., a fourth year medical student in the Medical Scientist Training Program and co-author of the study, focuses her research on breastfeeding.

“There’s already established research showing the numerous benefits breastfeeding has for both mother and child. This study’s findings are important for families particularly before and soon after birth when breastfeeding decisions are made. It may encourage breastfeeding goals of one year or more. It also highlights the critical importance of continued work to provide equity focused access to breastfeeding support, prenatal education, and practices to eliminate structural barriers to breastfeeding.”

This shows a mom and newborn
Variations were found in the cumulative cognitive test scores of breastfed and non-breastfed children. Image is in the public domain

Researchers reviewed the test results of more than 9,000 nine and ten-year-old participants in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Variations were found in the cumulative cognitive test scores of breastfed and non-breastfed children. There was also evidence that the longer a child was breastfed, the higher they scored.

“The strongest association was in children who were breastfed more than 12 months,” said Lopez. “The scores of children breastfed until they were seven to 12 months were slightly less, and then the one to six month-old scores dips a little more. But all scores were higher when compared to children who didn’t breastfeed at all.” Previous studies found breastfeeding does not impact executive function or memory, findings in this study made similar findings.

“This supports the foundation of work already being done around lactation and breastfeeding and its impact on a child’s health,” said Ed Freedman, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the ABCD study in Rochester and lead author of the study. “These are findings that would have not been possible without the ABCD Study and the expansive data set it provides.”

Additional co-authors include John Foxe, Ph.D. and Yunjiao Mao with URMC, and Wesley Thompson of University of California San Diego. URMC is one of 21-sites across the country collecting data for the ABCD study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

About this cognition and breastfeeding research news

Source: University of Rochester
Contact: Kelsie Smith Hayduk – University of Rochester
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Breastfeeding Duration Is Associated With Domain-Specific Improvements in Cognitive Performance in 9–10-Year-Old Children” by Daniel Adan Lopez et al. Frontiers in Public Health


Breastfeeding Duration Is Associated With Domain-Specific Improvements in Cognitive Performance in 9–10-Year-Old Children

Significant immunological, physical and neurological benefits of breastfeeding in infancy are well-established, but to what extent these gains persist into later childhood remain uncertain.

This study examines the association between breastfeeding duration and subsequent domain-specific cognitive performance in a diverse sample of 9–10-year-olds enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study®. The analyses included 9,116 children that attended baseline with their biological mother and had complete neurocognitive and breastfeeding data.

Principal component analysis was conducted on data from an extensive battery of neurocognitive tests using varimax-rotation to extract a three-component model encompassing General Ability, Executive Functioning, and Memory. Propensity score weighting using generalized boosted modeling was applied to balance the distribution of observed covariates for children breastfed for 0, 1–6, 7–12, and more than 12 months.

Propensity score-adjusted linear regression models revealed significant association between breastfeeding duration and performance on neurocognitive tests representing General Ability, but no evidence of a strong association with Executive Function or Memory. Benefits on General Ability ranged from a 0.109 (1–6 months) to 0.301 (>12 months) standardized beta coefficient difference compared to those not breastfed.

Results indicate clear cognitive benefits of breastfeeding but that these do not generalize to all measured domains, with implications for public health policy as it pertains to nutrition during infancy.

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