By Chelsea Lacey-Mabe

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Parenting experts have advocated breastfeeding for years but new research suggests it can be especially beneficial to preemies.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine studied preterm infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St, Louis Children’s Hospital.

They found the babies who had more brain tissue and cortical-surface area by their due dates were the ones who were getting half of their daily diet in breast milk, compared to babies drinking significantly less breast milk.

The findings will be presented on May 3 at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, in Baltimore.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preterm birth is a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children.

More research is needed to determine exactly how breast milk affects the brain and what is present in the milk that promotes brain development. The study authors are also trying to determine if the same neurological benefits from the breast milk can be applied to babies born full-term.