According to a study published in the June 24 BMJ Archives of Disease in Childhood, the best way to ensure your child’s a place on the top rung of the social ladder is to breastfeed her.
To assess the impact of breastfeeding on later social status, British researchers compared two groups of individuals that included 17,400 children born in 1958 and 16,700 born in 1970. When the children reached the ages of 5 or 7, their mothers were asked if they had been breastfed.
Researchers found that while 68 percent of the mothers breastfed children born in 1958 only 36 percent of the mothers who gave birth in 1970 breastfed their babies. The children in the study were grouped into three categories: never breastfed, breastfed for less than four weeks, and breastfed for four weeks or more.
In addition, researchers compared the participant’s social class – based on the father’s standing – when the children were 10 or 11. Social class was measured on a four-point scale from unskilled/semi-skilled manual to professional/managerial.
Study investigators gathered data during regular follow-ups every few years and analyzed other potential influencing factors, including brain development and emotional stress levels. When study participants reached the age of 33 or 34, researchers followed up to assess their social class.
Their findings showed that breastfeeding increased both the 1958 and 1970 groups’ upward mobility – achieving a social class higher than the father – by 24 percent. The study also showed that breastfeeding decreased the odds of downward mobility by 20 percent.
In a June 24 news release, researchers reported that intellect and stress accounted for about one-third (36 percent) of the total impact of breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding enhances brain development, which boosts intellect, which in turn increases upwards mobility. Breastfed children also showed lower signs of stress,” said study authors. In addition, they found that the longer a child was breastfed, the higher the odds were for upward social mobility.
However, study author Amanda Sacker, a researcher at University College London, told HealthDay News that the study does not prove cause-and-effect. It is not clear, she noted, which aspect of breastfeeding is most beneficial, the nutrients in breast milk or the bonding that comes from close skin-to-skin contact between mother and child.
“Perhaps the combination of physical contact and the most appropriate nutrients required for growth and brain development is implicated in the better neurocognitive and adult outcomes in breastfed infants,” said study authors in the news release.
Further research is needed, said the researchers, to determine whether mothers who feed their infants formula could aid the long-term development of their children by mimicking the skin-to-skin contact that occurs when women breastfeed their babies.