Breastfeeding has been shown to be beneficial to babies because of the immune system boost they get from mom. Breast milk also has an essential fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which may provide infants with a cognitive boost.
Researchers decided to test if supplementing regular formula with DHA would have the same effect that came naturally from breastfeeding.
The researchers studied 229 infants, who received either formula supplemented with DHA or traditional infant formula. The babies were given the different formulas either shortly after birth, after 6 weeks of breastfeeding, or after 4 to 6 months of breastfeeding. When they were 9 months old, they were given a problem-solving test in which they had to complete a sequence of steps to get a rattle.
Babies who were fed formula supplemented with DHA were more likely to get the rattle and showed more intentional behaviors that allowed them to get the rattle.
More studies need to be conducted to confirm these effects.
“Currently, there is no clear consensus on whether infant formula should be supplemented with DHA,” notes lead author James R. Drover, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest who is now assistant professor of psychology at Memorial University in Canada.
“However, our results clearly suggest that feeding infants formula supplemented with high concentrations of DHA provides beneficial effects on cognitive development. Furthermore, because infants who display superior performance on the means-end problem-solving task tend to have superior IQ and vocabulary later in childhood, it’s possible that the beneficial effects of DHA extend well beyond infancy.”
This is not the first time DHA has been in the news. A news report from 2002 showed that the FDA approved its inclusion in formula, although evidence that it had a positive effect was scant at the time. Other factors, including the average age of a breastfeeding mother and socioeconomic status could have influenced results.
No doubt all this is why experts at the American Council on Science and Health, including the former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, concluded in a recent report that, “the addition of DHA and AA to infant formulas is not warranted at this time.”
In light of this new study, is paying a premium for enhanced baby formula worth it?