Can breastfeeding your baby versus formula feeding really make your child smarter? Is it the breastfeeding or is it the environment in which a child who is breastfed raised that causes the jump in IQ? The current issue of Pediatrics published research from a large ongoing study in Australia that examined this association: academic performance of 1,038 10-year old children and whether or not they were predominantly breastfed.
When looking at the results of a standardized academic test, the 10-year olds who were primarily breastfed for 6 months or longer had higher scores in all categories (mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling) than those who were breastfed for less than 6 months. However, there seemed to be a particularly greater effect among boys than girls.
Additionally, the effect of breastfeeding on academic achievement was weakened if the mother only finished high school (or less), had a trade (as opposed to working as a professional) or the family had an annual income of less than $36,000. Conversely, scores improved if the caregivers read or looked at books with the child when he was 3 to 5 years of age.
Although this research shows a positive effect of breastfeeding for more than 6 months with boys, research has shown numerous reasons to breastfeed both boys and girls. They may have less risk of SIDS, ear infections, allergies, intestinal problems, as well as obesity and diabetes later in life. Also, one of the fascinating acts of nature is that the nutritional composition of breast milk changes to match the needs of the growing baby. There are benefits for the mom as well: Less risk of breast and ovarian cancer, quicker return of the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size, less risk of diabetes and perhaps an easier time with weight loss while breastfeeding. It also helps save money and reduce waste since you don’t have to buy and throw away formula containers.
So for many reasons, possibly including greater academic achievement in middle childhood, various experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO), recommend exclusive breastfeeding (no other drinks or foods) for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding along with the gradual introduction of solid foods is recommended for up to at least 1 year of age by the AAP and at least to 2 years of age by the WHO.
If you need help breastfeeding, don’t be afraid to ask. Your obstetrician might be able to help. You can also talk to a lactation consultant or with a support group, such as La Leche League International.