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Infant formula brain development benefits within range of breast milk - report

By Mark Astley , 04-Jun-2012

The brain development of infants raised on milk-based infant formula does “not differ significantly” from those fed breast milk and soy protein-based formula, a US study has claimed.

The report, Development status of one-year old infants fed breast milk, cow’s milk formula, or soy formula, examined the mental, motor and language development status of breastfed, milk-based and soy protein-based infant formula during the first year of life.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center found that those children fed with soy protein-based formula and cow’s milk-based formula “did not differ significantly” in cognitive development.

The progress of those that were breast-fed was only slightly higher, said the study.

The report, which was funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), suggested that brain development is similar, whether infants receive breast milk, milk-based formula or soy protein-based products.

“Did not differ significantly”

“This unique study showed that all scores on developmental testing were within established normal ranges and that MF and SF groups did not differ significantly. Furthermore, this study demonstrated a slight advantage of BF infants on cognitive development compared with formula-fed infants,” said the report.

The study recorded the brain development status of 391 subjects - including 131 that were breast-fed (BF), 131 raised on milk-based formula (MF), and 129 soy-based formula-fed (SF) infants.

Researchers assessed the subjects at the ages of three, six and nine months using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and the Preschool Language Scale.

They also took into account factors such as gender, birth weight, race, head circumference and the mother’s IQ.

“No differences were found between formula-fed infants (MF versus SF). BF infants scored slightly higher than formula-fed infants on the Mental Development Index (MDI) score at ages 6 and 12 months.”

The report added that the results were “consistent with a large body of literature demonstrating advantages of breastfeeding on cognitive function later in life.”

Ideal source of nutrition

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of human breast milk as the ideal source of nutrition for infant feeding.

Milk-based formulas are second choice, with soy protein-based products – which account for approximately 20% of formula-fed infants - following in third.

Concerns have previously been raised about the adverse effect of phytochemicals associated with soy proteins. However, the study found that infants fed these products developed within similar limits to coq milk-based formula.

“In summary, in this unique study, we established that SF infants perform within normal limits and similarly to MF infants in the areas of mental, psychomotor, and language development. Our results also suggest a slight potential advantage of cognitive development for BF infants.”

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