A study by Iqbal et al. that used data collected in the “Baluchistan-Early Childhood Development Project” – based in Pakistan – found that choices made on children from infancy to three years old can affect their language and cognitive development. Cognition refers to a group of mental processes that include attention, working memory, language production and comprehension, learning, explanation, response to problems and making decisions.

Breastfeeding for more than 12 months

Previous clinical trials and studies highly recommend that mothers breastfeed their child right from infancy as it is beneficial to their growth and development. With regards to dosage – measured by breastfeeding duration – Iqbal’s study revealed that children who were breastfed for more than 12 months had 2.42 times cognitive development, compared to those who were breastfed for less than 6 months.

By increasing the dose (duration) of breastfeeding, there is sufficient protection against the delay in the children’s language development.

PUFA in breast milk affects infant cognitive development

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are highly concentrated in the brain and retina areas. n-3 PUFAs, especially EPA and DHA, are beneficial to the neuro-cognitive and visual development during the early years of neuro-maturation, or infancy.

Since these bio-active compounds cannot be synthesised de novo by mammals, they can be obtained through external sources such as fish-heavy diets, Mediterranean diets or human breast milk. However, substitutes for human breast milk such as cow’s milk, does not contain n-3 PUFA.

Another study by Jiao et al. pointed out that n-3 PUFA supplements may significantly improve the cognitive development in infants, specifically in mental development, psychomotor development, language, motor and cognitive abilities. Interestingly, there was no similar effect in older children, adults or the elderly. With regards to the elderly individuals, n-3 PUFA did not show any improvements in the cognitive decline or any effects on Alzheimer disease.

Immunisation reduces childhood chronic disease

The topic of child immunisation has been widely discussed, and Iqbal’s study supports immunisation as it reveals that this is beneficial for the language development of children under 3 years old. Compared to non-immunised children, those who were completely immunised were 2.91 times more likely to reach age appropriate language development. Non-immunised children are more likely to get childhood diseases and during the course of the disease, they are more lethargic and hence less receptive to human stimulation.

As such, these affected children have less time for language development. In addition, chronic diseases can cause stunting and this is a risk factor that is also proven to affect developmental delays in children.

The choice the mother makes for the child right from infancy – specifically whether to breastfeed or to immunise them – has a significant effect on their language and cognitive development. While breastfeeding builds a bond between the mother and child – choosing to breastfeed from infancy to a period greater than 12 months gives the child the maximum head-start in life. Choosing child immunisation could complement this, as it reduces the onset of childhood diseases that may obstruct their development. MIMS

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