A mother nursing
Breastfeeding is already known to provide a long list of benefits for both the mom and the baby, but there may be a new one to add: improved long-term brain health.
A new study from researchers at UCLA Health found that mothers over age 50 who breastfed their babies performed better on cognitive tests than women who never nursed, indicating that breastfeeding can improve brain health.
"Our findings, which show superior cognitive performance among women over 50 who had breastfed, suggest that breastfeeding may be 'neuroprotective' later in life," Dr. Molly Fox, an assistant professor of anthropology and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA and the lead author of the study, said in a press release.
The researchers ran two trials with 115 women and gave them cognitive tests to analyze their learning, delayed recall, executive functioning and processing. Women who had breastfed performed better on all four categories.
They also found that the amount of time spent breastfeeding improved their brain health. Women who breastfed for the longest lengths of time, particularly those who continued with it after the first 12 months of their child's life, had the highest cognitive test scores.
"Because breastfeeding has also been found to help regulate stress, promote infant bonding and lower the risk of post-partum depression, which suggest acute neurocognitive benefits for the mother, we suspected that it could also be associated with long-term superior cognitive performance for the mother as well," Fox said.
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Fox added that future studies on the associations between breastfeeding and brain health should be in "larger, more geographically diverse groups of women."
"It is important to better understand the health implications of breastfeeding for women, given that women today breastfeed less frequently and for shorter time periods than was practiced historically," she said.