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Why Breastfeed? Build a Better Brain

New research shows that breastmilk is needed for optimal brain development

If you have any doubts about the massive benefits of breastfeeding, you have not been paying attention. Here is the latest.

The latest findings show significant differences in brain development between those who had breastmilk for the first three months of life and those who did not. Testing 133 children between the ages of 10 months and 4 years, Deoni and colleagues (2013) found that those who had at least 3 months of breastfeeding had greater white matter development.

Those who had breastmilk exclusively and for a longer period showed better development of white matter. White matter, which includes glial cells and myelinated axons, was more developed in breastfed infants, especially in later maturing frontal and association brain areas, including areas associated with better performance on cognitive and behavioral measures.

The early months and years of life are when, according to a child’s maturational schedule, white matter is scheduled to develop quickly. When the window for maturation passes, it may be difficult to make up for it. For example, in prior research with adolescents those who were breastfed, in comparison to those fed formula exclusively, had a thicker cortex, with greater white and sub-cortical gray matter (neurons), including parietal lobe size, associated with IQ (Hallowell and Spatz, 2012; Isaacs et al., 2010).

Celebrate Breastfeeding Month (August) by telling teenagers and expectant parents about its benefits!

For more information about breastmilk in comparison to formula, see this series of posts:

Post 1 discusses why you should care about breastfeeding, no matter who you are.

Post 2 discusses assumptions about infant formula that are wrong.

Post 3 discusses myths about infant formula.

Post 4 discusses the TREMENDOUS benefits of doing what is normal: breastfeeding.

Post 5 addresses myths about breastfeeding.

**Check out our YouTube video talk on breastfeeding vs. formula.**

Post 6 discusses real truths about breastfeeding.

Post 7 provides links to resources for breastfeeding.

Post 8 summarizes the prior posts' main messages in blunt terms.

Post 9 gives the bottom line about breastfeeding vs. formula.

Post 10: Stand up for breastfeeding

Post 11: Talk about breastfeeding with your family, friends and doctor


Deoni, S.C.L. Dean III, D.C., Piryatinksy, I., O'Muircheartaigh, J., Waskiewicz, N., Lehman, K., Han, M., & Dirks, H. (2013). Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study. Neuroimage,

Hallowell, S.G., Spatz, D.L., 2012. The relationship of brain development and breastfeeding in the late-preterm infant. J. Pediatr. Nurs. 27, 154–162.

Isaacs, E.B., Fischl, B.R., Quinn, B.T., Chong, W.K., Gadian, D.G., Lucas, A., 2010. Impact of breast milk on intelligence quotient, brain size, and white matter development. Pediatr. Res. 67, 357–362.

NOTE on BASIC ASSUMPTIONS: When I write about parenting, I assume the importance of the evolved developmental niche (EDN) for raising human infants (which initially arose over 30 million years ago with the emergence of the social mammals and has been altered among human groups as shown by anthropological research).

The EDN is the baseline I use for determining what fosters optimal human health, wellbeing and compassionate morality. The niche includes at least the following: infant-initiated breastfeeding for several years, nearly constant physical proximity and frequent postive touch, responsiveness to needs so the young child does not get distressed, playful companionship, multiple adult caregivers, positive social support, and natural childbirth (e.g., no separation of mom and baby, no drugging of the baby from birth drugs).

All these characteristics are linked to health and wellbeing in mammalian and human studies. Thus, shifts away from the EDN baseline are risky. My comments and posts stem from these basic assumptions.