A young mother is breastfeeding her baby in a cafe while she is having a coffee
March 28, 2017

Beastfeeding is good for your kids (but it won’t make them smarter)

While breastfeeding provides many health benefits, including an infant’s risk of contracting an infectious disease, diarrhea or earache, research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics has found that it is unlikely to have any long-term positive influence on their intelligence.

In fact, according to NPR and the Huffington Post, study author  Lisa-Christine Girard, a child-development researcher at University College Dublin, and her colleagues reported no significant difference in the standardized test scores of breast-fed school kids and those who were not.

Girard told NPR that her team looked at 8,000 youngsters from Ireland who underwent testing at the ages of 3 and 5. While they found that while breast-fid kids scored slightly higher, the overall difference “wasn’t big enough to show statistical significance” and that they were unable “to find a direct causal link between breast-feeding and children's cognitive outcomes.”

While, after adjusting for socio-economic differences, they found only minor differences among breast-fed and non-breast-fed kids in terms of vocabulary and problem-solving, the study authors did find that those who received mother’s milk did appear to be less hyperactive at age 3. By the age of 5, however, those differences had all but vanished.

Mother’s milk is still best for infants, say experts

As part of their study, the UC-Dublin team recruited approximately 8,000 families selected from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal infant cohort study. They collected data on the cognitive abilities, vocabulary and behavior issues of the participating children through parent and teacher reports and standardized tests. Breastfeeding information was provided by the mothers.

Of the 13 possible benefits of breastfeeding they were evaluating, they only found a statistically significant result on one of them – children’s hyperactivity levels for those measured that the age of 3 – and even those benefits disappeared once the kids started school, they noted.

Girard told NPR that the findings were “not overly surprising,” despite the fact that, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, breast milk contains a pair of nutrients, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), which are known to support brain development in growing kids.

The study authors explained that there are multiple factors that influence a child’s development, cognitive and otherwise, and emphasize that their study is not meant to discourage breastfeeding. “The medical benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child are considered numerous and well documented,” they wrote. “These findings do not contradict” those benefits.

In a commentary accompanying the study, Dr. Lydia Furman of Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, added that research has proven that breastfeeding has “an array of life-saving maternal, child, and societal benefits, even if childhood behavioral outcomes are not affected.”

-----

Image credit: Thinkstock