Skip to main content
Explore URMC
menu

News

20212020201920182017

Researchers find breastfeeding linked to higher neurocognitive testing scores

Monday, April 26, 2021

New research finds that children who were breastfed scored higher on neurocognitive tests. Researchers in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) analyzed thousands of cognitive tests taken by nine and ten-year-olds whose mothers reported they were breastfed, and compared those results to scores of children who were not.

"Our findings suggest that any amount of breastfeeding has a positive cognitive impact, even after just a few months." Daniel Adan Lopez, Ph.D. candidate in the Epidemiology program who is first author on the study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health. "That's what's exciting about these results. Hopefully from a policy standpoint, this can help improve the motivation to breastfeed."

Hayley Martin, Ph.D., a fourth year medical student in the Medical Scientist Training Program and co-author of the study, focuses her research on breastfeeding. "There's already established research showing the numerous benefits breastfeeding has for both mother and child. This study's findings are important for families particularly before and soon after birth when breastfeeding decisions are made. It may encourage breastfeeding goals of one year or more. It also highlights the critical importance of continued work to provide equity focused access to breastfeeding support, prenatal education, and practices to eliminate structural barriers to breastfeeding."

Researchers reviewed the test results of more than 9,000 nine and ten-year-old participants in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Variations were found in the cumulative cognitive test scores of breastfed and non-breastfed children. There was also evidence that the longer a child was breastfed, the higher they scored.

"The strongest association was in children who were breastfed more than 12 months," said Lopez. "The scores of children breastfed until they were seven to 12 months were slightly less, and then the one to six month-old scores dips a little more. But all scores were higher when compared to children who didn't breastfeed at all." Previous studies found breastfeeding does not impact executive function or memory, findings in this study made similar findings.

"This supports the foundation of work already being done around lactation and breastfeeding and its impact on a child's health," said Ed Freedman, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the ABCD study in Rochester and lead author of the study. "These are findings that would have not been possible without the ABCD Study and the expansive data set it provides."

Read More: Researchers find breastfeeding linked to higher neurocognitive testing scores

Brain changed by caffeine in utero, study finds

Thursday, February 4, 2021

New research finds caffeine consumed during pregnancy can change important brain pathways in baby.

New research finds caffeine consumed during pregnancy can change important brain pathways that could lead to behavioral problems later in life. Researchers in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) analyzed thousands of brain scans of nine and ten-year-olds, and revealed changes in the brain structure in children who were exposed to caffeine in utero.

"These are sort of small effects and it's not causing horrendous psychiatric conditions, but it is causing minimal but noticeable behavioral issues that should make us consider long term effects of caffeine intake during pregnancy," said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, and principal investigator of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development or ABCD Study at the University of Rochester. "I suppose the outcome of this study will be a recommendation that any caffeine during pregnancy is probably not such a good idea."

Elevated behavioral issues, attention difficulties, and hyperactivity are all symptoms that researchers observed in these children. "What makes this unique is that we have a biological pathway that looks different when you consume caffeine through pregnancy," said Zachary Christensen, a M.D/Ph.D. candidate in the Medical Science Training Program and first author on the paper published in the journal Neuropharmacology. "Previous studies have shown that children perform differently on IQ tests, or they have different psychopathology, but that could also be related to demographics, so it's hard to parse that out until you have something like a biomarker. This gives us a place to start future research to try to learn exactly when the change is occurring in the brain."

Investigators analyzed brain scans of more than 9,000 nine and ten-year-old participants in the ABCD study. They found clear changes in how the white matter tracks -- which form connections between brain regions -- were organized in children whose mothers reported they consumed caffeine during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman standing at window holding mug.

Researchers analyzed the brain scans of more then 9,000 nine and ten-year-olds and found a change in important brain pathways in those whose mothers retrospectively reported consuming caffeine while pregnant.

URMC is one of 21-sites across the country collecting data for the ABCD study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Ed Freedman, Ph.D., is the principal investigator of the ABCD study in Rochester and a co-author of the study.

"It is important to point out this is a retrospective study," said Foxe. "We are relying on mothers to remember how much caffeine they took in while they were pregnant."

Previous studies have found caffeine can have a negative effect on pregnancy. It is also known that a fetus does not have the enzyme necessary to breakdown caffeine when it crosses the placenta. This new study reveals that caffeine could also leave a lasting impact on neurodevelopment.

The researchers point out that it is unclear if the impact of the caffeine on the fetal brain varies from one trimester to the next, or when during gestation these structural changes occur.

"Current clinical guidelines already suggest limiting caffeine intake during pregnancy -- no more than two normal cups of coffee a day," Christensen said. "In the long term, we hope to develop better guidance for mothers, but in the meantime, they should ask their doctor as concerns arise."