News Release 

Consuming sugary beverages while breastfeeding affects cognitive development in children

Children's Hospital Los Angeles study shows that juice and drinks with added sugar can affect a child's cognitive development

Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Research News

A diet high in sugar during adulthood is associated with weight gain, and has also been linked to risk of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. New research shows that when consumed by moms during the breastfeeding period, a high sugar diet can also impact developmental outcomes during infancy.

Michael I. Goran, PhD, Program Director for Diabetes and Obesity at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, has studied how sugar can impact family health. His previous research has shown that moms who consume sugary beverages and juices in the months after giving birth are at risk for weight gain, and may also expose their newborns to these added sugars through breast milk. A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that consuming these beverages during the breastfeeding period may also lead to poorer cognitive development in children nearly two years later.

The participants were 88 mothers who reported sugary beverages and juices consumed per day during the first month of breastfeeding. Their children were assessed using the Bayley-III Scales of Infant Development at 2 years old. Moms who reported greater consumption of sugary beverages and juices had children with poorer cognitive development scores. The researchers speculated that added sugar from the mom's diet was passed to their infant through breast milk, and this exposure could conceivably interfere with brain development.

"Breastfeeding can have so many benefits," says Dr. Goran, "but we're seeing that breast milk is influenced by what moms eat and drink even more than we realized." He says that limiting added sugars, found in beverages such as soft drinks, may have benefits not only for moms, but also for babies. "Moms may not realize that what they eat and drink during breastfeeding may influence their infant's development down the road, but that's what our results indicate."

"Ultimately, we want babies to receive the best quality nutrition," says Paige K. Berger, PhD, RD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow and first author of the study. "Our findings may be used to guide future nutrition recommendations for moms during breastfeeding, to better ensure that babies are getting the right building blocks for cognitive development."

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The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (K99 HD098288), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (R012DK110793), and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (UL1TR001855 and UL1TR000130). This work was also funded by the Gerber Foundation (15PN-013).

About Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Founded in 1901, Children's Hospital Los Angeles is the highest-ranked hospital in California and fifth in the nation on the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll of best children's hospitals. U.S. News ranks Children's Hospital Los Angeles in all 10 specialty categories. Clinical care at the hospital is led by physicians who are faculty members of the Keck School of Medicine of USC through an affiliation dating from 1932. The hospital also leads the largest pediatric residency training program at a freestanding children's hospital in the Western United States. The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles is home to all basic, translational, clinical and community research conducted at the hospital, allowing proven discoveries to quickly reach patients. Our mission: to create hope and build healthier futures. To learn more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, and visit our blog at CHLA.org/blog.

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