While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least the first six months to one year of your baby’s life, many still believe that breast is best until two years of age. And with hospital policies on breastfeeding improving, and greater resources and support both online and in real life, mothers are now more emboldened and encouraged to sustain their breastfeeding journeys.
Of course, it isn’t without its challenges. Insufficient maternity leave and postpartum stress and depression contribute to cutting short breastfeeding. But knowing all about the incredible benefits breast milk gives your baby might motivate you to soldier on!
Breast milk is an enigma that scientists are still figuring out, to this day. From its unique composition of vitamins and minerals that varies according to specific needs, to its innate antibacterial properties, your milk seems almost magical. Breastfeeding is also linked to several health benefits for both mother and child, specifically in boosting your baby’s brain development and resistance to diseases.
Here are some proven benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk for your baby’s brain:
Enhanced, visible brain development compared to mixed-fed or formula-fed babies. A study out of Brown University in 2013 uncovered actual proof how breast milk enhances baby’s brain development. The brains of babies who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months showed the fastest development of myelinated white matter, or the substance integral to the speedy communication of the different parts of the brain. MRI images showed that by age 2, exclusively breastfed babies had vastly different development in the areas of the brain related to cognition, emotional response, and motor skills compared to formula-fed babies.
Higher IQ, strong motor skills and memory, and possibly even improved skill in mathematics later in life. Another study in 2016 followed pre-term babies who were given breast milk exclusively for at least the first 28 days of their lives. These premature babies grew to show higher IQs and better motor skills and memory by age 7 than their batchmates who were fed formula.
Stronger academic performance throughout life. British research shows that babies who were breastfed at least six months showed a stronger performance than their formula-fed peers when it came to math, language, and motor skills–consistently from age 5 to age 14, proving the long-term effects of breastfeeding exclusively as long as you are able.
Of course, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally or easy for every mom. At the end of the day, despite all these clear benefits, it’s ultimately a mother’s choice based on her capacity. It doesn’t make you less of a mom if you don’t pursue a long breastfeeding journey–but these scientific facts are sure to inspire you to at least try!