Feeding premature babies mostly breast milk during the first month of life appears to stimulate more robust brain growth, suggests a recent study.
The details were presented in the Meeting Pediatric Academic Societies.“Our previous research established that vulnerable preterm infants who are fed breast milk early in life have improved brain growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes. It was unclear what makes breastfeeding so beneficial for newborns’ developing brains. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a non-invasive imaging technique that describes the chemical composition of specific brain structures, enables us to measure metabolites essential for growth and answer that lingering question,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Director of MRI Research.
The research-clinicians enrolled babies with low birth weight (less than 1,500 grams) and 32 weeks gestational age or younger at birth in the first week of life. The team then gathered data from the right frontal white matter and the cerebellum - a brain region that enables people to maintain balance and proper muscle coordination and that supports high-order cognitive functions.
The team generated light signatures for key metabolites and calculated the quantity of each metabolite. Of note:
-- Cerebral white matter showed significantly greater levels of a molecule similar to glucose for babies fed breast milk, compared with babies fed formula.
-- And the percentage of days infants were fed breast milk was associated with significantly greater levels of both water-soluble nutrients.
“Key metabolite levels ramp up during the time babies’ brains experience exponential growth. Seeing greater quantities of this metabolite denotes more rapid changes and higher cellular maturation. Choline is a marker of cell membrane turnover; when new cells are generated, we see choline levels rise,” said Katherine M. Ottolini, the study’s lead author.Already, children’s national leverages an array of imaging options that describe normal brain growth, which makes it easier to spot when fetal or neonatal brain development goes awry, enabling earlier intervention and more effective treatment.
“Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy may serve as an important additional tool to advance our understanding of how breastfeeding boosts neurodevelopment for preterm infants,” Limperopoulos adds.