Several weeks ago, I posted an article on how nursing facilitates the development of structures in the brain responsible for moral cognition, and a follow up article on how certain “high -touch” parenting practices (extended nursing, extravagant affection, skin-to-skin contact, “baby-wearing”, prompt response to cries) facilitate the development of the social brain. In that latter article, I walked readers through how such parenting practices facilitate moral and social development. This latest study from Brown University’s Baby Imaging Lab provides further, hard data exposing the myth that formula feeding is “just as good” as nursing or that short term nursing is “just as good” as extended breastfeeding.
The study made use of specialized, baby-friendly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain growth in a sample of children under the age of 4. The research found that by age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk. The extra growth was most pronounced in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function, and cognition, the research showed.
…Deoni and his team looked at 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years. 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 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.
“We’re finding the difference [in white matter growth] is on the order of 20 to 30 percent, comparing the breastfed and the non-breastfed kids,” said Deoni. “I think it’s astounding that you could have that much difference so early.”
Deoni and his team then backed up their imaging data with a set of basic cognitive tests on the older children. Those tests found increased language performance, visual reception, and motor control performance in the breastfed group.
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. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE
Biology is theology. God created our bodies in such a manner as to point to the fact that we were created for loving communion with him and one another. Science consistently shows that when we cooperate with God’s plan for parenting by respecting the self-donative nature of the body and nursing babies through toddlerhood, we lay the groundwork for more effective social and moral reasoning. To learn more about how the theology of the body reveals God’s plan for parenting, check our Parenting with Grace:The Catholic Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.
Incidentally, I would like to offer my congratulations to Dr. Darcia Narvaez, the author of the original article I linked on nursing and moral cognition. She was recently named a Fellow in the American Educational Research Association. Congratulations Dr. Narvaez! And thank you for your excellent work promoting those parenting practices that are best at facilitating children’s moral and social development.