The evidence continues to mount: breastfeeding promotes optimal early childhood brain development (See: Following AAP, the American Dietetic Association Supports Exclusive Breastfeeding For Six Months, Revised WIC Guidelines Provide Incentives To Breastfeeding Families, Two U.S. Health Organizations Collaborate To Improve Breastfeeding Rates). Breastfed babies do better when they reach kindergarten and as they progress through school, and they score higher on IQ tests (Horwood & Ferguson, 1998; Tanaka, Kon, Ohkawa, Yoshikawa, & Shimizu, 2009).
But what exactly is it about breastfeeding that would account for such a dramatic effect?
The answer: Human milk is packed with health-advancing nutritional benefits that promote optimal brain development in very young children. According to Melinda Johnson, nutrition instructor at Arizona State University and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, “It’s not just one mechanism…The nutrition [provided by breastfeeding] is perfect for the growing child…DHA [an omega-3 fatty acid found in breastmilk] is critical for brain development and also for nervous system development.” The existence of this crucial acid in breastmilk may help to clarify the evidence that breastfed children perform better in the educational environment (Doheny, 2010).
Additionally, human milk also includes the amino acid taurine, acknowledged for its significance for maximum neurological growth. “Newborns and preemies cannot manufacture taurine,” stated Dr. Ruth Lawrence, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on breastfeeding, “Taurine is one of the amino acids needed for brain growth. The brain will double in size in the first year of life…We in the breastfeeding field have been focusing on brain growth [and its importance] for a number of years.”
Despite the proven benefits, breastfeeding rates are low in Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee. Only about half (53.6%) of Shelby County mothers intend to breastfeed their infants immediately after birth, compared with 59.2% of mothers across the rest of Tennessee. Meanwhile, Healthy People 2010, the nation’s health agenda, established target breastfeeding rates of 75% at birth (For more information on breastfeeding trends in Memphis, please see Strategies for Improving Rates in Shelby County).
Policy Suggestions To Promote Breastfeeding In Our Community:
- Build Employer Support for Breastfeeding. Supply breast pumps to moms who can’t afford to purchase or rent them. Promote corporate education and support of the current law requiring procurement of break time and suitable space to express breast milk.
- Encourage Community Engagement. Actively engage husbands, partners and companions in physician visits, social support consultations, and breastfeeding promotion gatherings. Breastfeeding must emerge as the familiar and expected manner of infant feeding.
For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute website at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Home.
Doheny, K. (2010, January 3). For baby and mom alike, breast-feeding may be best. HealthDay Reporter: Yahoo! News.
Horwood, L.J. & Fergusson, D.M. (1998). Breastfeeding and later cognitive and academic outcomes. Pediatrics, 101, 1-7.
Tanaka, K., Kon, N., Ohkawa, N., Yoshikawa, N., & Shimizu, T. (2009). Does breastfeeding in the neonatal period influence the cognitive function of very-low-birthweight infants at 5 years of age? Brain and Development, 31(4), 288-293.