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Children who are breastfed longer are smarter

Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for the brain’s growth, development and functioning. Two fat groups play a particularly important role; Omega-3 and Omega-6. Newborn children receive these fats through breast milk and, among others; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that human milk positively affects children's cognitive development.

Ulrika Birberg

Psychologist Birberg Ulrika Thornberg participated in a long term study that examined both cognitive and behavioral levels in breast-fed children. Thornberg reported the results in her dissertation in psychology at Linköping University.

The fatty acids in breast milk were analysed when the children were born, and at one and three months of age. The children’s’ cognitive abilities were measured at 6.5 years of age. One of the study’s main results showed that long-term breastfeeding provides a significantly better cognitive development at this age. This applies to both total IQ and verbal capacity. For the first time children's emotional capacity was tested appears to be significantly better in those children who retained a good balance of fatty acids from their mother’s breast milk.

“It is predominately the balance of fatty acids that is important”, says Thornberg.

She also emphasises that the differences are small at the individual level, but becomes far greater at a group level.

“This study is unique. But the sample group is small and therefore requires a larger study, which we are process of preparing.”

She has also examined whether children with neuropsychological difficulties such as ADHD can be helped by supplements of these essential fatty acids. During a double-blind study, children diagnosed with ADHD received a supplement of Omega-3 or placebo for 15 weeks. The total difference was minimal. However, for two subgroups of ADHD children it was the greater and supplements of Omega-3 could play a positive role.

Ulrika Birberg Thornberg defended her thesis on 7 June.


Anika Agebjörn 2011-06-20



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Last updated: 2014-11-05