Women should continue breastfeeding through children’s school years, particularly as they get older, according to a study published Tuesday in the British Journal of Nursing. The findings offer the first evidence to suggest that women who breastfeed appear to protect their cognitive function later in life, by bringing brain development and memories into sync with early development in the mother’s womb.
Breast milk contains antibodies, vitamins and fatty acids, as well as minerals such as potassium, iron and calcium, that accumulate over time, giving baby a boost of nutrients as well as fostering new brain development. As mothers age, however, some of these nutrients enter the child’s system via fatty acids and vitamins that are naturally disposed to the milk; this is called the “reproductive breast milk age effect,” and the suggestion is that babies could be protected from cognitive decline by continuing to eat enough breast milk and breastfeeding until the child is an adolescent.
The study, conducted by researcher Dr. Larissa Pace, shows that women who breastfed a child through the first three years of his or her life were less likely to have cognitive decline as their children grew older. As noted in the study, Pace, a professor of human sciences at Lancaster University, found that the risk of developing cognitive decline “was reduced by 20-25 percent for every additional year of breast milk supplied in childhood.” (Infants should only be breastfed at a maximum of six months.)
Pace has devoted her career to researching the role of breast milk in parenting. After finishing a master’s degree in nursing education, she attended the University of Arkansas to study human nutrition. “I wanted to study mothers’ nutritional contributions during pregnancy and then, when my children started school, wanted to look at how that contributed to their development,” she told Global News. She then went on to study breast feeding in pregnancy at the University of South Florida and McGill University.
Of the more than 20,000 people in the study, which included both mothers and their children, those who breastfed in childhood were not more likely to have a lower IQ score than those who didn’t. However, those who nursed a child until their adolescent years were less likely to have cognitive decline by middle-age, compared to those who did not.
The study did not examine why breastfeeding seems to protect against cognitive decline in the long run. The researchers are still analyzing their data and are not sure yet whether additional research is required to confirm their findings.
Read the full story at The Independent.
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