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Breast milk best for brain development in premature babies

Breast milk best for brain development in premature babies

A new study published in the journal NeuroImage reports that preterm infants fed with breast milk rather than formula showed better signs of brain development.

Previous studies have shown that that pre-term birth is associated with changes in the white matter of the brain’s structure that helps brain cells to communicate with one another and alterations in the brain development may cause problems with the learning and thinking skills in later life.

Manuel Blesa and associates conducted a study to test the hypothesis that breast milk exposure is associated with improved markers of brain development and connectivity in preterm infants at term equivalent age.

The researchers studied MRI brain scans from 47 babies who had been born before 33 weeks gestation and scans took place when they reached the term-equivalent age, an average of 40 weeks from conception.

The team also collected information about how the infants had been fed while in intensive care – either formula milk or breast milk from either the mother or a donor.

Read Also: Specific bacteria in  cervix of a pregnant woman may lead to preterm birth
The study found that babies who exclusively received breast milk for at least three-quarters of the days they spent in the hospital showed improved brain connectivity compared with others. Fractional anisotropy-weighted connectivity was increased in infants who received ≥75% of exclusive breast milk feeds compared to those who did not. The effects were greatest in babies who were fed breast milk for a greater proportion of their time spent in intensive care.The results showed a dose-dependent relationship with breast milk exposure.

The study concluded that data the microstructural properties of white matter tracts and cerebral structural connectivity is improved in association with higher exposure to breast milk in pre-matured babies.

Across 184 countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% of babies born. In India, out of 27 million babies born every year (2010 data), 3.5 million babies born are premature. Newborn deaths (those in the first month of life) account for 40 percent of all deaths among children under five years of age.

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Source: With inputs from the journal NeuroImage

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