New study suggests breastfeeding may help prevent cognitive decline

UCLA researchers found 'superior cognitive performance' among women over 50 who had breastfed

Breastfeeding can have long-term cognitive benefits for the mother, a new study has found.    

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a study that found women over the age of 50 who had breastfed their babies performed better on cognitive tests compared to women who had never breastfed. 

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"While many studies have found that breastfeeding improves a child’s long-term health and well-being, our study is one of very few that has looked at the long-term health effects for women who had breastfed their babies," Molly Fox, the study’s author, said in a news release

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

The study, titled, "Women who breastfeed exhibit cognitive benefits after age 50," asserts that breastfeeding’s biological effects and psychosocial effects, such as improved stress regulation, could exert long-term benefits for the mother’s brain.

"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.

Participants in the study, all women over 50 years old, completed a comprehensive battery of psychological tests measuring learning, delayed recall, executive functioning and processing speed. Results revealed that those who had breastfed at one point in their lives performed better in all four categories compared to women who had not. 

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The study also found that the amount of time spent breastfeeding was associated with better cognitive performance. 

"Future studies will be needed to explore the relationship between women’s history of breastfeeding and cognitive performance 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," Fox said.