Breastfeeding May Not Raise Children’s IQ, Study Finds

Mother breastfeeds her baby girlAdvocates have long pointed to studies that suggest breastfeeding may contribute to multiple benefits in children, including an increase in a child’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ). According to a new study published in PLOS One, breastfeeding might not raise children’s IQs after all.

Does Breastfeeding Raise IQ?

Many previous studies suggesting a correlation between breastfeeding and cognitive development did not control for other factors that might explain a boost in intelligence among breastfed babies. Educated mothers, women of higher socioeconomic status, and those who extensively educate themselves about infant health all may be more likely to breastfeed. These mothers might provide an environment that is more stimulating for a child, suggesting the type of mother who breastfeeds—rather than breastfeeding itself—may boost intelligence.

To test the correlation between breastfeeding and higher IQ, researchers analyzed data from 11,582 twins born in 1994-1996 who participated in the Twins Early Development Study at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. Researchers gathered data on breastfeeding from the children’s mothers within two years of the twins’ birth, then assessed the intelligence of each child nine times—at ages 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, and 16.

Breastfed girls showed slightly higher intelligence at age 2 than girls who were not breastfed, but researchers noted the correlation was statistically weak. Boys showed no such correlation. At older ages, neither girls nor boys who were breastfed displayed higher intelligence than children who were not breastfed, suggesting that breastfeeding does not impact a child’s IQ over time.

The Impact of Breastfeeding on Other Health Factors

This latest study contradicts extensive previous research, so more research may be necessary to confirm the findings. Even if the finding that breastfeeding does not boost IQ proves true, researchers stress there is no reason for mothers to avoid breastfeeding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long tried to raise breastfeeding rates because of the health benefits breastfeeding can offer. Breastfeeding’s benefits may include:

  • Increased immunity to infections, especially ear infections
  • A reduction in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Increased bonding between mother and child
  • Decreased risk of asthma and allergies
  • A reduced risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes
  • Fewer gastrointestinal problems

According to the CDC’s 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card, 79% of new mothers attempted to breastfeed their babies born in 2011. By the time the babies were 6 months old, just 49% of mothers were still breastfeeding. At 12 months, the figure dropped to 27%.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed—receiving no additional foods except Vitamin D unless medically necessary—for the first six months of life. Thereafter, babies should continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months and as long as is mutually desirable.

References:

  1. Breastfeeding. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-benefits.html
  2. Breastfeeding initiatives. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding/faqsBreastfeeding.html
  3. Breastfeeding report card United States 2014 [PDF]. (2014, July). Atlanta: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Heck, K. E., Braveman, P., Cubbin, C., Chávez, G. F., and Kiely, J. L. (2006). Socioeconomic Status and Breastfeeding Initiation Among California Mothers. Public Health Reports, 121(1), 51–59.
  5. Whiteman, H. (2015, September 27). Breastfeeding ‘does not improve a child’s intelligence’ Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/300024.php

 

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  • Jamie

    Jamie

    September 28th, 2015 at 5:15 PM

    I want moms to do whatever makes them feel the most connected and comfortable with their child. If that means that you breastfeed, then great. If it means that your baby gets formula, then that’s fine too. I think that much of how your child turns out is about so much more than whether you breastfeed or not. personally I did it and it was a great bonding experience for me and my daughters but I don’t look down on another mom just because they choose to do something differently than I did.

  • Coco

    Coco

    September 29th, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    but by and large there are way too many benefits to breastfeeding (if you can do it) for it to be avoided, yes?

  • Trent

    Trent

    September 30th, 2015 at 12:06 PM

    I do think that it is wonderful when a mother decides to breastfeed her child
    the thing that kind of weirds me out are those who continue to do it long after the kids are old enough to verbally ask for it
    Don’t you think that that is just a little too long?

  • Margaret

    Margaret

    September 30th, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    All of this has been blown way out of proportion, so much so that I think that now each side is trying to use one thing or another against families everywhere. We care for our children the best way that we all know how and what would be just great would be to know that we all have the love and support of other parents and not have to worry so much about what other people think about what we are doing to our children. Let’s all become a greater source of support for one another.

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