Children that began stuttering at an early age and were breastfed in infancy may have a better chance of overcoming their speech impediment, according to a new study.
Findings published in the Journal of Communication Disorders describe a link between breastfeeding and the chances of a child recovering from a persistent stutter and protecting against the speech impairment altogether.
“Our study adds to the evidence suggesting that human milk can exert a significant influence on neurodevelopment,” University of Illinois doctoral student Jamie Mahurin-Smith said. “Although it’s not a magic bullet, it can make an important difference for children, even years after weaning.”
Researchers followed 47 children who had a history of stuttering. Out of the 30 that recovered naturally from stuttering, researchers found that those who were breastfed longer were more likely to stop. Boys in the study were the most affected. Those who were breastfed for more than a year had one-sixth the chances of developing persistent stuttering compared to those who were never breastfed, the study found.
The study attributes this to two fatty acids found in human milk: docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. Both play a crucial role in the development of neural tissue which aid in the fluency of speech, Mahurin-Smith said in a statement.
“It may be that fatty acid intake affects the expression of genes responsible for stuttering,” University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor emerita Nicoline Ambrose, said in a statement.
Stuttering, a speech disorder characterized by the abnormal repetition of words, sounds or syllables, usually develops between the age of 18 months to 5 years old. Although the causes remain unknown, it occurs more often in boys than in girls, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
This isn’t the first study to link breast milk with stuttering. A study published in 1997 found that infants that were breastfed for more than nine months had a lower risk of developing a speech impediment than those breastfed for shorter periods of time.
“We’ve known for years that both genetic and environmental factors contributed to stuttering, but our understanding of the specific environmental variables in play has been murky,” Mahurin-Smith said. “These findings could improve our understanding of stuttering persistence and recovery.”