This 2013 study, used MRI scans to compare measures of white matter microstructure in 133 healthy children from 10 months through 4 years of age, who were either exclusively breastfed a minimum of 3 months; exclusively formula-fed; or received a mixture of breast milk and formula. It also examined the relationship between breastfeeding duration and white matter microstructure. Breastfed children exhibited increased white matter development in later maturing frontal and association brain regions.
The study showed that the exclusively breastfed group had the fastest growth in myelinated white matter of the three groups, with the increase in white matter volume becoming substantial by age 2. The group fed both breastmilk and formula had more growth than the exclusively formula-fed group, but less than the breastmilk-only group. “We’re finding the difference [in white matter growth] is on the order of 20 to 30 percent, comparing the breastfed and the non-breastfed kids,” said Deoni. “I think it’s astounding that you could have that much difference so early.” The study also looked at the effects of the duration of breastfeeding. The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year, and found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed longer — especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function.
The findings provide insight into the earliest developmental advantages associated with breastfeeding, and support the hypothesis that breast milk constituents promote healthy neural growth and white matter development. Link to the study here: http://