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A component in human breast milk helps brain development in babies

A recent study evaluated whether human breast milk helps brain development in babies.

Many factors can influence a baby’s development. Breastfeeding has been well documented to be beneficial to a baby’s development. However, there are many factors that can influence the amount and extent of breastfeeding’s benefits for babies, one of which is obesity. Obese mothers may have more difficulty producing breast milk and obesity can also change the composition of breast milk. Animal studies have shown the positive influence of a human breast milk component, a carbohydrate known as oligosaccharide 2’FL, on brain development. The influence of human milk oligosaccharide breast milk components, however, has not yet been studied in humans.

To explore the benefits of specific components in breast milk on a baby’s brain development, researchers in the United States conducted a study and published their results in PLOS ONE. Fifty Hispanic mother-baby pairs from a local maternity clinic in Los Angeles, California in the United States were included in the study. As part of the study, mothers were asked to fill out questionnaires about their breastfeeding practices and routine, and their breast milk at one and six months was collected for analysis. Infant cognitive development was evaluated at 24 months of age using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development scale administered by trained personnel.

The study found that maternal human breast milk helps brain development in babies at 24 months of age. An increased frequency of breast milk feedings at one month was associated with improved infant brain development, suggested to be a result of increased exposure to breast milk oligosaccharides. This same result was not seen at six months, which suggests that early exposure to breast milk helps brain development in babies. Since the human milk oligosaccharides in breast milk tend to stabilize or decrease during the lactation period, it presents a crucial window of time to achieve the most benefit on brain development in babies.  

The researchers note that their study is limited by their small sample size located in one area of the United States that only included Hispanic mothers. Nonetheless, the results of the study demonstrate that breast milk helps brain development in babies. This may help inform and guide breastfeeding practices to maximize its benefits to infant cognitive development.

Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD.


Berger, P. K., Plows, J. F., Jones, R. B., Alderete, T. L., Yonemitsu, C., Poulsen, M., … Goran, M. I. (2020). Human milk oligosaccharide 2’-fucosyllactose links feedings at 1 month to cognitive development at 24 months in infants of normal and overweight mothers. Plos One15(2). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228323

(2020, February 12). Component of human breast milk enhances cognitive development in babies. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-02/chla-coh021220.php

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

Maggie Leung PharmD
Maggie Leung PharmD
Maggie is a registered pharmacist and has a PharmD from the University of Toronto. She currently works in the pharmacy informatics field as a clinician applications consultant. In her role, she supports the integration and optimization of technology in healthcare. She enjoys learning about the latest in scientific research and sharing that knowledge through her writing for Medical News Bulletin. Maggie is a big dog lover and enjoys traveling and spending time with her friends and family.


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