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Marisa Borusiewicz

Breastfeeding and Early White Matter Development: A Cross-Sectional Study

To most parents, one of their main goals it to give their child the best chance at having
the best life possible, which usually includes giving the child all the tool necessary to be as
intelligent as possible. Typically that means teaching basic skills at young ages and then sending
him or her to the best school possible. However, can parents do more? This study, performed by
Sean C.L. Deoni and his colleagues suggest that there is in fact more parents can do, specifically
the mother, which increases brain development in babies.
In this study 133 toddlers, both male and female between the ages of 305 and 1541 days,
were divided into three groups. The first group was exclusively breastfeed. The second was
only fed baby formula, and the last group was a mix of breastfeeding and formula feeding. The
children underwent IQ testing as well as a specific type of Magnetic Resonance Imaging termed
mcDESPOT, which measures myelin water fraction, to compare the development of the frontal
The results collected by Deoni indicate a correlation between breastfeeding and IQ as
well as an increase in volume of the white and sub-cortical grey matter. Additionally, the
parietal lobe cortical, part of the brain associated with IQ, increased in mass. These results are
consistent with other studies conducted on adolescents.
The article covered some of the ideas presented in the textbook about white matter. Due
to the fact that white matter in the brain is the myelin sheath (which is white in color) which
surrounds the axons. Thus, finding an increase in white matter, as they did in the study,
indicated that there is more myelin in the brain. This could be due to more axons forming as a
result of breastfeeding or increased density of the myelin. As was discussed in class, an
increased number of axons is associated with a particular region of the brain could create higher
and more tuned sensitivity to stimuli. More likely, the increased volume indicates that there is
more myelin surrounding the axon or that the axon diameter within the myelin. Either of these
options, would result in faster transmission of the nerve impulses and increase brain function,
represented in this case by the measure of IQ
However, another topic that is covered in the book and relevant to the study is the
argument of nature versus nurture. This debate covers the idea of which, the inborn genetic
makeup of a child or the nurturing of the parents and environment, have a stronger impact on a
childs resultant intelligence. This case of course points towards the idea the nurture is very
important in the development of the child. The study shows that the increase in brain matter is
developed after birth and during the first few months of life.
While the study can determine the correlation between breastfeeding and development of
late-maturing matter, it cannot yet be attributed to a causal relationship; however, the study
includes some discussion of possible causes. One of the main possibilities is that there is long-
chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Still, it is possible that a secondary cause is the additional
attachment developed to the mother by the increased time spent with her and the nutriment she is
physically providing the child. The study showed that the IQ development is largely in the
verbal regions of the brain. In the textbook, it described that attachment to a primary caregiver
had the potential to increase produce higher verbal skills and better relationships, which would
also lead to a growth in these areas of the brain.
The finding in this study is consistent with other studies performed on adolescents and
thus the results are most likely accurate meaning that they are applicable to researcher. This
finding has the potential to change the way that mothers are advised to care for very young
children and lead to further studies on the on the possibilities differences in late-maturing matter.