A recent study gives us yet another reason to advocate for breastfeeding whenever possible. Researchers with Boston Children’s Hospital say they’ve found that for each month a woman reports breastfeeding, her child does better on tests of language and intelligence. Yes, this means breastfed babies may actually be smarter.
In the battle for breastfeeding, we are waging a war against the idea that a lab or assembly-line-made powdered cocktail could be better for the youngest humans than their own mother’s milk, nature’s formula. And while it would seem like a no-brainer to use breasts for the very thing they were designed for, it’s still a slightly uphill battle for many people. Thanks, in part, to marketing dollars, formula is almost a status symbol in some communities and certainly in some poor countries. But it’s time we laid the rumors to rest—the breast truly is best.
Other studies in the past have indicated breast milk may have beneficial effects on intelligence, but this is the first of its kind to rule out other potential factors like parental intelligence.
The study recruited 1,312 pregnant women between 1999 and 2002. Mothers were asked about their feeding practices and if they breast fed, how old their baby was when they stopped. Both the mothers and the children (at ages 3 and again at 7) were given standardized intelligence tests.
Overall, breastfeeding was tied to an improvement of 0.21 point on language tests after mother’s intelligence and other factors like family income were taken into account. The most dramatic difference was seen in children who received only breast milk for the first three months of life; these children scored an average of 3 points higher than those who were never breastfed. On the intelligence portion of the test, breastfeeding was linked to a 0.35 point increase.
Dr. Mandy Belfort, who led the study, said although a parent or teacher might not be able to tell the difference in one single student’s score, the difference could perhaps be seen in a population of breastfed children. In other words, “If every child scored a few points higher, for example, there would be fewer kids on the very low end of the spectrum needing help.”
We already know that breastfeeding is linked to a decreased risk of ear infections, eczema, allergies, and even cancer. One report focusing specifically on breastfeeding in those crucial days and even hours after a child is born even indicates that breastfeeding newborns could save around 830,000 lives each and every year. Now we can add boosted brain power to the list of benefits.