Study Finds BreastFed Babies May Not Necessarily Be Smarter

March 28, 2017
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There is no doubt that Breastfeeding has many known health benefits. However, there is still an amount of uncertainty about how it influences a child’s’ intelligence.

A new study published in Pediatrics has now found that children who are breastfed for at least 6 months as babies have less hyperactive behavior by age 3 compared with other kids who weren’t breastfed.

On the other hand, the study found that breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily lead to a boost in intelligence.

The study looked at 8,000 children in Ireland where, at ages 3 and 5, the children took standardized tests to measure cognitive abilities. Overall, the breastfed kids scored a little bit higher.

Study author Lisa-Christine Girard, a child-development researcher at University College Dublin, however, said that “But [the difference] wasn’t big enough to show statistical significance,”

The differences in scores were so minor that researchers consider it a statistical wash. “We weren’t able to find a direct causal link between breastfeeding and children’s cognitive outcomes,” Girard said.

“Our findings are not overly surprising,” Girard said that there is a multitude of factors that shape a kid’s development and intelligence, not just breastfeeding.

Girard said that Mom’s who choose to breastfeed tend to share a whole range of characteristics and habits.

For example, mothers who breastfeed typically have higher levels of education,” Girard says. They also tend to engage less in risky behaviors while they’re pregnant, such as smoking. Other factors such as IQ, and varying home environments also play a role. “How many books are in the home, how much time is spent reading?” Girard and her colleagues needed to look at all these kinds of differences.

What’s really interesting is that before the researchers applied methodology designed to cater for all these variables, breastfeeding was associated with better cognitive development outcomes almost across the board.

However, when they accounted for all these socio-economic variables, the stand-alone effect of breastfeeding seemed to disappear.

There was, however, one exception to this – and it was the positive benefit of breastfeeding on hyperactive behavior. “The effect is small, but it’s there,” Girard explains. The benefit of less hyperactive behavior was documented at age 3, but by age 5 it had faded away. The authors of the study said that “the earlier observed benefit from breastfeeding may not be maintained once children enter school.”

Despite these findings, the debate continues. “This has been a debate for over 100 years, and we’re working hard to understand the complete picture,” Girard says.

These findings also don’t alter the recommendations to breastfeed as there is almost worldwide consensus that it’s the best way to feed an infant.

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