For several years now, the common prevailing wisdom, backed by ample studies, is that breastfeeding is best for children. The practice claimed to have all sorts of benefits, including increasing your child’s IQ by a few points compared to non-breastfed children. However, recent studies have found the correlation between breastfeeding and intelligence has been overstated.
A study conducted on 8000 children in Ireland found that over time, there was little statistical difference in the cognitive abilities of children who were breastfed versus children who were not breastfed. Although there was a slight measurable increase among breastfed children, the results were too insignificant to suggest breastfeeding will make a child smarter.
“We weren’t able to find a direct causal link between breast-feeding and children’s cognitive outcomes,” said Lisa Christine-Gerard, author of the study and a child development researcher at University College Dublin. Girard pointed out that the study attempted to account for all other factors.
She explained that statistics and the study found that mothers who breast-fed their children were also more likely to do a number of activities that could positively influence the cognitive development of their children, such as smoking less, reading more and having a higher level of education. These factors, Girard said, likely contributed to the small statistical difference that did exist between breast-fed and bottle-fed babies.
However, the study did find a measurable difference in hyperactivity between children who were breastfed and children who were not which could not be accounted for by factoring in other socioeconomic and medical factors. Children who were breast-fed had a minor but statistically significant improvement in hyperactive behavior. However, by the age of 5, the difference was gone, making even that factor a possible statistical accident.
This study contradicts earlier studies that repeatedly found a correlation between IQ and breastfeeding, but it is also the first that attempted to remove as many extraneous factors as possible – the study was conducted by pairing up two children who shared all the same socioeconomic traits and backgrounds, except that one was breastfed and one was not. This matching was conducted on all 8000 children, the most extensive attempt to rule out socioeconomic factors’ influence.
Neverthless, Girard and other researchers involved in the study say, breastfeeding still has a number of other well documented health benefits for children and is still the preferred method of feeding them. Recommendations currently suggest parents breastfeed their children for six months exclusively, then continue to breastfeed for another six months as their children are introduced to solid foods.