Breastfeeding advocates now have one more finding to help their cause. According to a new study published in the July 29 online edition of JAMA Pediatrics, breastfeeding improves or increases a child’s IQ. Research showed that the longer a mother breastfeeds her baby — up to the age of one year — the greater the benefit to the child’s intelligence.
The study, led by Mandy B. Belfort, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, followed 1,312 Massachusetts women who were recruited while pregnant in 1999 to 2002 and their babies. The mothers reported if they had breastfed their babies and how old their children were when they stopped. Belfort and her colleagues tested the mothers’ intelligence, and the children’s at age 3 and then again at age 7, using standardized tests.
Researchers also looked at the children’s home environment and other factors that might influence IQ, including child care, income and parental education. They subtracted these factors using a statistical model to determine if there was a valid connection between breastfeeding and intelligence.
Study results showed that babies who were breastfed for their first year scored four points higher on their IQ tests than did babies who weren’t breastfed. Researchers found that breastfed children had better receptive language skills at 3 years and had higher verbal and nonverbal intelligence at age 7.
“These findings support national and international recommendations to promote exclusive breastfeeding through age 6 months and continuation of breast feeding through at least age 1 year,” concluded study authors in a JAMA news release.
In an editorial accompanying the study report, Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute, supported the study findings, but pointed to the lack of sustained breastfeeding as an issue of concern.
“…The problem currently is not that most women do not initiate breastfeeding, but it is that they do not sustain it,” said Christakis in the JAMA news release.
“In the United States,” he continued, “about 70 percent of women overall initiate breastfeeding, although only 50 percent of African American women do. However, by 6 months, only 35 percent and 20 percent, respectively, are still breastfeeding.”
Christakis told HealthDay News that it was “time to start making it easier and more acceptable for women to breastfeed for longer,” including such steps as destigmatizing breastfeeding in public, encouraging baby-friendly workplaces, and taking steps to make sure breast pumps are covered by insurance.
But what if you are unable breastfeed?
Study author Belfort acknowledged in Bloomberg that not everyone can breastfeed successfully, and cautioned that study results shouldn’t make parents worry.
“It’s important to point out that breastfeeding is just one factor that influences a child’s intelligence,” said Belfort. “Our results shouldn’t make parents feel bad for the choice they have made.”