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Breastmilk as Brainfood?

Ann E. Butenas


If the maxim is true that breast milk contributes to enhanced brain functions, then I must assume Einstein was a breast-fed baby. I was not breast-fed after birth. My intelligence, loosely noted, does not match that of Einstein's, but I think I can still hold my own. I breast-fed each of my three sons for at least one year each, and I like to say, without bias (yeah, right!), that they all appear to have outstanding mental capabilities.

My five-year-old is a whiz on computers and video games. He is reading, spelling, and solving simple math problems. His reasoning abilities often reflect those of kids twice his age. My middle child, though usually quiet, will say things unexpectedly that make me wonder if he has been imprinting the pages of an encyclopedia into his brain. And the youngest, at the tender age of two, knows the score when it comes out-witting the medicine spoon and me.

What I am trying to note here is that I believe the basic chemical make-up of breastmilk may offer increased mental functioning in a developing baby's brain. Further, such development will serve the child well throughout his or her life. I did some research on the subject in preparation of this article. A significant amount of the information I perused was quite extensive and written in a very theoretical manner. Albeit, much of it was quite academic in nature and, in my opinion, a bit too thorough for this forum. However, I did observe from my readings some interesting findings about the relationship between breastfed babies and their cognitive development.

For instance, in reviewing an article in the Biology section of "About" on the Internet with Regina Bailey, it noted "researchers found that breast-feeding is associated with more advanced cognitive development in infants. The longer a baby is breastfed, the higher the difference when compared to formula fed babies." (Dateline: 09/30/99)

According to the article, there exist certain nutrients in breast milk that are beneficial to the baby. Some researchers have noted that infants who were not breast-fed tended to have lower IQ scorings as compared to their breast-fed counterparts. The article also pointed out that the nutrients, coupled with the bonding aspects of mother to child, added to the enhanced cognitive development of the baby.

In a study done by Dr. A. Lucas in the United Kingdom (The Lancet, Vol. 339, Feb., 1, 1992), it was reported that IQ scores assessed in 300 children who had consumed breast milk in the early weeks of life had a "significantly higher IQ at 7 1/2 - 8 years (of age) than did those who received no maternal milk."

The article with Regina Bailey pointed out that many researchers believe breast milk aids in the development of the infant's brain, supporting rapid brain development from polyunsaturated fatty acids found in breast milk, such as arachidonic acid (AA). Not surprisingly, I have noted a distinct difference between my brother and I. He was breastfed as an infant. He does possess, in my opinion, greater intelligence levels than I do. He was always more capable of understanding certain subjects in school than I was and became a quick study on many levels. While I do not feel intellectually deficient, I often wonder how I would have done in school had I been breast-fed. My grades were way above average and I did manage to make it through college and graduate school, but when comparing my brother's academic career to mine, I feel he had more of an advantage than I did. After delving into some of this research, it makes me wonder if some of that can be attributed to the breast milk he received as an infant versus the formula I received.

Since I breast-fed all of my boys for basically the same amount of time each, I will not have the opportunity to ascertain any distinct differences between breast milk versus formula. I guess my biggest challenge will be to find out who is the smartest and then determine who received the most breast milk nutrition from me! I sincerely hope all are equal in IQ levels in different areas and that, despite the research attributed to increased cognitive development from breast milk, that my boys continue to challenge their intellectual development every day. Maybe one day I WILL benefit from the advantages of breast milk in a roundabout way: My boys can teach me the things THEY learn!

Ann E Butenas is a stay-at-home mom of three preschool-age boys. She has an undergraduate degree in Communications, a post-bachelor paralegal certificate, and a Master's in Business Management. She earned the latter during her first two pregnancies while running an at-home business at the same time. She has been professionally published as a writer since the age of 12.

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