Women who had breastfed their babies performed better on cognitive tests after the age of 50 compared to women who had not breastfed, finds a new study.
The findings, published in Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, suggest that breastfeeding may have a positive impact on postmenopausal women’s cognitive performance and could have long-term benefits for the mother’s brain.
“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,” said lead author Molly Fox from the University Of California-Los Angeles.
“Our findings, which show superior cognitive performance among women over 50 who had breastfed, suggest that breastfeeding may be aneuroprotective’ later in life,” Fox added.
Cognitive health is critical for wellbeing in aging adults. Yet, when cognition becomes impaired after the age of 50, it can be a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), the leading form of dementia and cause of disability among the elderly.
For the study, the team analysed data collected from women participating in two cross-sectional randomised controlled 12-week clinical trials.
Among the two trials, 115 women chose to participate, with 64 identified as depressed and 51 non-depressed. All participants completed a comprehensive battery of psychological tests measuring learning, delayed recall, executive functioning and processing speed.
Key findings from the researchers’ analysis of the data collected from questionnaires on the women’s reproductive history revealed that about 65 per cent of non-depressed women reported having breastfed, compared to 44 per cent of the depressed women.
All non-depressed participants reported at least one completed pregnancy compared to 57.8 per cent of the depressed participants.
Results from the cognitive tests also revealed that those who had breastfed, regardless of whether they were depressed or not, performed better in all four of the cognitive tests measuring for learning, delayed recall, executive functioning and processing compared to women who had not breastfed.