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Quick Summary: A new study suggests breastfeeding could have long-term benefits for a mother's brain.


A new study has found women aged over 50 who breastfed their babies performed better in cognitive tests compared to women who had never breastfed.

Indeed, when all the time spent breastfeeding is added up, researchers found women who breastfed the longest scored the highest in cognitive tests.

This suggests the biological and psychosocial benefits of breastfeeding, for example improved stress regulation, may have a positive impact on the cognitive performance of postmenopausal women.

In other words, breastfeeding could be associated with long-term superior cognitive performance for the mother. It could also mean that breastfeeding may be 'neuroprotective' later in life.

The study by Fox M et al., was published in Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.


The study:

Two cross-sectional randomized controlled 12-week clinical trials were conducted at UCLA Health.

Among the two trials, 115 women chose to participate. 64 women identified as depressed and 51 were not depressed.

The researchers used 4 cognitive tests measuring for Learning, Delayed Recall, Executive Functioning and Processing Speed.

The researchers found:

  • Women who had breastfed, regardless of whether or not they were depressed, performed better in all four of the cognitive tests: in Learning, Delayed Recall, Executive Functioning and Processing Speed.
  • The longer time spent breastfeeding was associated with better cognitive performance.
  • Women who did not breastfeed at all had significantly lower cognitive scores.
  • When all the time spent breastfeeding was added up:
    • Women who breastfed for 1-12 months scored higher in 3/4 cognitive tests compared to women who had never breastfed.
    • Women who breastfed for a total of more than 12 months scored higher in 4/4 cognitive tests compared to women who had never breastfed


In conclusion:

According to this article in Science Daily, Molly Fox, PhD, lead author of the study and an Assistant Professor in the UCLA Department of Anthropology and the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences says:

"Our findings, which show superior cognitive performance among women over 50 who had breastfed, suggest that breastfeeding may be 'neuroprotective' later in life."

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Scientific reference:

Science Daily article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/2110...

Molly Fox, Prabha Siddarth, Hanadi Ajam Oughli, Sarah A Nguyen, Michaela M Milillo, Yesenia Aguilar, Linda Ercoli, Helen Lavretsky. Women who breastfeed exhibit cognitive benefits after age 50. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/emph/eoab027 https://academic.oup.com/emph/advance-article/doi/...


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