Breastfeeding Linked to Smarter Babies (Again)

By Melissa Lafsky | May 7, 2008 3:56 pm

BreastfeedingHere’s some new ammunition for the mommy wars: the largest study ever done on the subject of breastfeeding and intelligence has found a correlation between “prolonged and exclusive” breastfeeding and smarter babies.

The study, authored by Michael Kramer from the Montreal Children’s Hospital, started by identifying about 17,000 Belarusian mothers with newborns. Half of the mothers were given a UNICEF/World Health Organization course—which advised long and continuous breastfeeding—while the other half were left alone to breastfeed at whim. The research team then tracked down about 14,000 of the children six and a half years later to give them IQ tests and examine their school evaluations in reading, writing and math.

Sure enough, the babies that were breastfed longer and more continuously scored 7.5 points higher on verbal intelligence than their less-breastfed peers, 2.9 points higher on non-verbal intelligence, and 5.9 points higher on tests for overall smarts—a relatively modest difference, but still significant.

This study is the latest in the long string of pro-breastfeeding research linking it to everything from decreasing a mother’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis to lowering the child’s chances of cardiovascular disease later in life. It’s also the most recent in the tidal wave of studies linking breastfeeding to higher intelligence—many of which were found to have methodological flaws.

While this study appears to be the most conclusive evidence so far of a breastfeeding-IQ link—a fact emphasized by the slew of headlines proclaiming that breastfeeding is the key to baby Einsteins—its conclusions still leaves open the question of why. Is the IQ increase explained by a biochemical response linked to breast milk itself? Or could it be, as Kramer suggests, “something related to the physical contact or the emotional contact between the mother and the baby”? Prior studies point to the former—though as with most things, it may all be in the genes.

  • Sarah

    Quite frankly I am absolutely sick of propaganda about breastfeeding. When I had my son he was impossible to breastfeed and screamed none stop. Instead of receiving emotional support, compassion and understanding from midwives I was made to feel guilty and inadequate as though it was my fault that my baby simply refused to attach to the breast.

    I had a long first labour and after three days of pain was left for hours after the birth without any help with a first breast feed when the baby was first born. I was then expected to try to put him to feed in the middle of the night when I was exhausted and he wasn’t even interested.

    My son, despite being bottle fed from the word go, is an incredibly intelligent, gifted little boy and during his time as a small infant, only vomitted milk ONCE!He is a very healthy, bright child and has a strong personality.

    From what I have seen of other parents children who have been breast fed, they appeared to me to be very fussy eaters, not put weight on quickly and had more health problems than my son, this would rather suggest that you cannot make blanket claims about these things.

    I would also add that many other mums I have spoken to have been made to feel as though it was their fault that their baby would not breastfeed and have been left feeling pretty disheartened and depressed. Having a baby is a very vulnerable and emotional time where women need support, not pressure and propaganda put upon them.

    If you can breastfeed naturally and you have no big problems with it then I am sure it is great, but there are many women who have problems or whose babies won’t feed and they should not be made to worry about all these health issues and made to feel guilty about it.

    I was breastfed for nine months as a baby and I still grew up to suffer from Crohns disease so it didn’t make any difference to me.

    I hope someone reads these comments and sees the other side of the argument.I would also suggest that there are many other factors that influence a baby’s health such as how much attention, love and proper care they are given as infants.

    There is no subsititute or better thing for a baby than pure love, cuddles and real devotion from the mother. Given this, whether they are breastfed or bottle fed, I doubt it makes a huge amount of difference.

  • Cheri

    Such a wonderful article, again letting mothers and others know that what should be common knowlege still has to be proven over and over again! Congratulations to the researchers.

    Sarah,so sorry you didn’t get professional help from a lactation specialist. The first 3-4 days or even 1-2 weeks are not indicators of whether your breastfeeding relationship will work out. The Number 1 rule of lactation consulting if there is difficulty is to “feed your baby”, formula by bottle or cup if need be, Number 2 is “protect your milk supply”, with a good double pump, 8-12 times per 24 hours, then you can use that milk instead of formula, and number 3 is “fix the problem”. Getting good professional help would have made a world of difference for you. Stopping in the first days did not even give you enough time for your milk to increase and baby to awaken to his world to begin the breastfeeding.

    Midwives are not normally lactation consultants so not trained in the help and counseling that is needed. And often the help you receive in the hospital, even if with a hospital Lactation Consultant, is not the same as getting someone to come to your home with breastfeeding help being their specialty. We see the cases when mom goes home and no one at the hospital could help them. Mom and baby are calmer and things go much more smoothly. The baby was not ready or something else was going on with your exhaustion. It is especially heartbreaking to see a mother give up in the first couple of days. Mothers are often angry and lash out and can make themselves feel guilty when it is many times regret.

    Most babies will latch on by themselves if allowed even after having a bottle for several weeks. Just take a few baths together and he would have tried, might not have quite got it at first but he would have tried. Dr. Jack Newman, of Toronto, says that even the baby with difficulties will often magically latch on correctly between 4 to 8 weeks.

    Good luck with your next child.

  • baby girl

    I think every body know breast feeding is more natural and healthy way to start a baby life.

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  • Maternity Rants

    Sarah – my heart goes out to you and thanks for speaking out. I am an author and a mother. I have started a blog/global support forum in response to my network – many, many women like you who are having guilt trips laid at their door by pious pregnancy and parenting busybodies.

    You may be interested to know that a 2006 study published in the highly respected British Medical Journal comprehensively rubbished the claim that breastfed babies are more intelligent than bottle-fed babies. Nevertheless, it suits the frighteningly powerful global breastfeeding lobby to continue to perpetuate this myth.

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  • FindMyBabyName

    I have to agree with Sarah. It’s so annoying to see this propaganda as well. There’s so many negative, and positive things on anything nowadays. NOTHING is good for you according to the media. When will the sheeple stop buying into these stupid studies?!?


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