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Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for your baby. It can provide all of the nutrients essential for growth and development of a baby as well as antibodies to help the little one fight off viruses and bacteria. Studies have also shown that breastfeeding can offer emotional benefits to both children and mothers. Breastfeeding can also reduce the mother's risk of obesity, hypertension and breast cancer. World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is a global campaign to raise awareness about breastfeeding. It is an annual celebration which is being held every year from 1 to 7 August in more than 120 countries.
The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2020 is "Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet". In line with this theme, WHO and UNICEF are calling on governments to make skilled breastfeeding counselling available to every woman. On the occasion of the World Breastfeeding Week, let's understand how breastfeeding can contribute to your child's cognitive and brain development.
A 2013 study published in the journal NeuroImage claimed that just 3 months of breastfeeding can increase brain growth by 20 to 30 percent. Researchers at Brown University looked at the brain growth of 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years using a very quiet and baby-friendly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
They focussed on the microstructure of the brain's white matter, the tissue that contains long nerve fibers and helps different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Specifically, they looked for amounts of myelin, the fatty material that insulates nerve fibers and speeds up the electrical signals between neural networks within the brain.
The babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months were found to have the fastest growth in myelinated white matter compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk. According to the researchers, the extra growth was most pronounced in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function, and cognition.
The researchers also found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed for more than a year -- especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function. Further cognitive tests on the older children showed increased language performance, visual perception, and motor control performance in the breastfed group.
Another study published in the same year found an association between breastfeeding and children's later mental abilities. The study, carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health in the US, found that children whose mothers breastfed for longer did better in language tests at age three and IQ tests at seven than children who were weaned earlier.
According to the4 researchers, nutrients in breast milk, such as n-fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may benefit the developing brain.
The results were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
Breastfeeding can boost mothers' health as well. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed have lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as postmenopausal osteoporosis. Nursing mothers tend to lose pregnancy weight easily and have delayed menstruation. In addition, the oxytocin released during breastfeeding helps your uterus contract, reducing post-delivery blood loss.
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