Babies born preterm who are fed maternal milk have greater academic achievement, higher IQ’s, and a lower risk of ADHD than preterm peers not fed maternal milk. The corresponding study was published in JAMA.
Children born preterm are at a higher risk of lower academic achievement and developing ADHD than their full-term peers. In the current study, researchers sought to see how maternal milk feeding impacts cognitive, academic, and behavioral outcomes of infants born preterm.
To do so, they examined the neurodevelopmental outcomes for 586 infants born at under 33 weeks of gestation. They examined data including the volume of maternal milk fed to infants each day, how long maternal feeding continued, and neurodevelopmental outcomes at seven years of age, including academic achievement, symptoms of ADHD, and executive function.
In the end, the researchers noted that higher maternal milk intake was linked to higher performance IQ, higher reading and math scores, and fewer ADHD symptoms. After controlling for confounders such as clinical and social factors, the researchers noted that the benefits of maternal milk were strongest among infants born at the lowest gestational ages- especially those born below 30 weeks of gestation.
As the study is observational in nature, the researchers note that they cannot determine causality and that other factors they were unable to account for may determine both ability to provide maternal milk and academic achievement.
“Our study confirms recommended strategies for supporting parents to provide maternal milk for preterm infants,” said corresponding author Mandy Brown Belfort, MD, MPH, of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine.
“And it strengthens the call for health policies and parental leave policies that support rather than work against parents. As a society, we need to invest in families — it’s an investment that will continue to benefit children when they reach school age,” she noted.