Babies who receive nutrient-enriched formula milk or supplements do not have cognitive advantages over those who do not

Babies who receive nutrient-enriched or supplemented formula milk have no cognitive advantages over those who do not.

Breastfeeding is the best for infant nutrition, but breastfeeding rates beyond six weeks are low in many countries. In contrast, infant formulas (breast milk substitutes) are widely used to supplement or replace breastfeeding and are consumed worldwide by more than 60% of babies under six months of age .

However, a study published today by The BMJ suggests that children who receive nutrient-enriched formula or supplement milk as infants do not appear to have higher test scores in adolescence .

Seven controlled trials

Modifying formula milk has been suggested to promote cognitive development, but evidence from trials that modified formulas result in long-term cognitive benefits is inconclusive .

The researchers linked data from seven randomized controlled trials to children’s performance on school tests at ages 11 and 16 and found no clear difference in their results. They thus analyzed the results of seven randomized trials of nutritionally modified infant formulas carried out in five English hospitals between August 1993 and October 2001 in which 1,763 adolescents participated.

Two of the trials tested formula milk fortified with a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA), one of many components of human milk with a role in brain development; one tried added iron; two formula milks tested with higher concentrations of macronutrients; and two formulations tested with sn-2 palmitate or added nucleotides, which are not believed to be related to cognition .

There were no differences in the scores for English at 16 years, and for mathematics and English at 11 years, between children who took standard formula as infants and those who received formulas fortified with nutrients, added iron, sn-2 palmitate or nucleotides.

However, at age 11, children given the LCPUFA-supplemented formula scored lower in both English and math .