Numerous advantages to breastfeeding have been reported over the years; however, a new study has reported that a longer period of breastfeeding may increase a child’s cognitive function. The findings were published online on July 29 by researchers affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
The researchers noted that previous studies have reported that breastfeeding may benefit child cognitive development; however, but few studies have quantified breastfeeding duration or exclusivity. In addition, no study to date has examined the role of maternal diet during lactation on child cognition. Therefore, they conducted a study to examine relationships of breastfeeding duration and exclusivity with child cognition at ages 3 and 7 years and to evaluate the extent to which maternal fish intake during lactation modifies associations of infant feeding with later cognition.
The researchers reviewed data from the Prospective cohort study (Project Viva), a US prebirth study that enrolled mothers from April 22, 1999 through July 31, 2002, and followed up children to age 7 years. The study comprised 1,312 Project Viva mothers and children.
The researchers measured cognition via child receptive language assessed with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at age 3 years, Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities at ages 3 and 7 years, and Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test and Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning at age 7 years. They found that after adjusting for socio-demographics, maternal intelligence, and home environment, a longer duration of breastfeeding was associated with higher Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test score at age 3 years (0.21 points increase per month breastfed) and with higher intelligence on the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test at age 7 years (0.35 verbal points per month breastfed and 0.29 nonverbal points per month breastfed). Breastfeeding duration was not associated with Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning scores. Beneficial effects of breastfeeding on the Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities at age 3 years appeared to be greater for women who consumed two or more servings of fish per week (0.24 points per month breastfed) compared with less than two servings of fish per week (−0.01 points per month breastfed).
The authors concluded that their results support a causal relationship of breastfeeding duration with receptive language and verbal and nonverbal intelligence later in life.
Take home message:
This study illustrates another advantage of breastfeeding and consuming a healthy diet. If you are unable to breastfeed, other methods can promote cognition in your child. For example, avoid plopping your child in from of a TV set to keep him or her entertained; instead, talk to your baby, read to your baby, and play with your baby. As the child grows, continue stimulating activities, such as playing games like “I Spy” while in the car with your child.