Got Breast Milk?

Nutrients in breast milk contribute to neural development.

By Alicia Waltman, published on July 1, 2000 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Want to boost your baby's IQ? It may be as easy as choosing breast
milk over store-bought formula.

The difference seems to derive from two fatty acids in natural
breast milk. In a 17-week-long study, researchers at the Retina
Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas, fed a group of newborns a
formula containing docesahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid
(AA)--breast milk ingredients that aid in neural development--to test
their effect on mental development. A second group was fed a formula
containing only DHA, while a third, the control group, drank a commercial
formula lacking both DHA and AA. The groups were then tested and compared
using the Mental Development Index.

The results, published in the journal Developmental Medicine and
Child Neurology, show that children who consumed both DHA and AA
performed better than both other groups in terms of memory, problem
solving and language development skills. That group's average score was
105: two-and-a-half points higher than the DHA-only group, five points
higher than the U.S. national average, and seven points higher than the
commercial formula group.

Based on these findings, Dennis Hoffman, Ph.D., a Retina Foundation
senior scientist and study co-author, believes the natural balance of
fatty acids in breast milk is the "gold standard--probably the best
combination for proper visual and neural development." The researchers
plan to retest the participants at ages 4 to 9 to see whether IQ
disparities persist. Meanwhile, 60 countries have already begun
supplementing baby formula with both DHA and AA--something the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration may also require of American formula makers by
the end of this year.