New Study Adds Long-term IQ to Benefits of Breastfeeding

BreastfeedingThe benefits of breastfeeding are many and varied, but research has mostly focused on the short-term benefits, such as for a baby’s immunity. However, an interesting new study, conducted in Brazil, has added long-term improvements in a child’s IQ, length of schooling and income (at age 30) to the argument in favor of breastfeeding.

The value of this study comes from its size and the fact that it studied newborns over time. Data was collected on breastfeeding habits of over five thousand babies born in the 1980s who were then followed until they were 30 years old – when the participants (more than three thousand completed the study) were tested for IQ, and information on years of schooling and income was collected.

Researchers found that babies who were breastfed for 12 or more months had an IQ at age 30 nearly 4 points higher, and also achieved nearly a year’s more schooling and significantly higher income than those breastfed less than one month. Importantly they also found a dose response for IQ and educational attainment, meaning that as the duration of breastfeeding increased so did IQ levels and length of education. Furthermore, a strength of the study was that breastfeeding was fairly evenly distributed across income groups in this region of Brazil, which helps separate out the effects on IQ of nursing from higher income level. Plus the authors controlled for 10 possible confounding factors, such as parental education, maternal smoking, birth weight and type of delivery.

Implications of This Study

While more research needs to be done to add weight to the growing body of evidence concerning long-term benefits of breastfeeding, a few implications can be drawn from this and other research findings:

  • Try to breastfeed for the recommended first year if at all possible
    • Speaking from experience, breastfeeding can be surprisingly difficult – so if you’re having trouble, seek out a lactation consultant or breast feeding support groups via your pre-natal classes or hospital (this worked wonders for me!)
  • Support other women considering breast feeding – some cultures embrace breast feeding more than others, but a little support can go a long way
  • Donate breast milk if you can – not everyone can breastfeed (my mother couldn’t)
    • Note that most donated milk goes to babies in a NICU
  • If you chose not to breast feed or didn’t manage it very long – don’t panic – there are a lot of other factors that support a child’s IQ and development (like extensive reading and talking to baby, nutrition, exposure to many sensory experiences)

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


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