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A Village of Care

This week the Buffett Early Childhood Institute released a statewide survey conducted by Gallup on Early Care and Education in Nebraska. The survey shows that the vast majority of Nebraskans understand the value of early care on the success of our children. These results will kick off an effort to bring early childhood care and education to the forefront of Nebraska policy, community development and social justice discussions. MilkWorks could not be more pleased!

The findings of the Buffett Institute also support Prosper Lincoln, a local initiative focusing on the importance of the early childhood period. According to both groups, crucial brain development in the first eight years of a child's life, especially in the first six months, forms the foundation for optimal learning and development. The Institute wants to level the playing field for all children and eliminate gaps in achievement. MilkWorks could not agree more - since breastfeeding is proven to be a key player in early development of the brain.

A 2013 study from the Department of Human Behavior and Psychiatry at Brown University reports that many large scale epidemiological studies have shown that children who were breastfed perform higher on IQ tests and cognitive functioning, even when factors related to birth weight, gestation duration, maternal education and socioeconomic status are accounted for. The researchers at Brown used MRI scans to compare white matter microstructure, which is associated with increased cognitive and behavioral performance measures, in breastfed, non-breastfed, and breastfed plus formula-fed children.

The Brown University study concludes that while the mechanism underlying the structural differences is unclear, their findings support the hypothesis that breast milk promotes healthy neural growth and white matter development. In particular, the extra growth was more pronounced in the parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function and cognition. Breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than breastfeeding plus formula-feeding, which produced better brain development than formula-feeding alone. In addition, babies who were breastfed longer than a year had significantly enhanced brain development, especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function.

A 2015 European study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences contributes further to our understanding of the role of breastfeeding. Their research acknowledges that breastfeeding plays a prominent role in promoting healthy brain and cognitive development in children, but states that surprisingly little is known about the influence of breastfeeding on social and emotional development in infancy. They examined how breastfeeding impacts the neural processing of emotional signals by measuring electro cortical responses to body expressions. They found that longer breastfeeding duration was associated with a “happy” bias, versus a “fear” bias, which suggests that breastfeeding shapes the way in which infants respond to emotional signals. This “happy” bias, or increased sensitivity to positive emotional signals, may be important in fostering positive social interactions. The study furthers reports that this emotional processing supports “the notion that breastfeeding behavior is a complex biological and psychological process linked to early socio-emotional development.”

Sam Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Institute, links brain development with having school-ready skills, confidence around other children, and an ability to take information and apply it. Meisels supports a multi-faceted approach to early care and education, saying “it takes a village - it is going to take everyone.” MilkWorks agrees. Acknowledging that breastfeeding (and breastfeeding support) is a crucial part of the village that makes a difference in the lives of Nebraska kids is part of this equation. An equation that is not only important, but vital, for growing the next generation of strong, healthy brains and bodies in Nebraska kids.