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Also read below, The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies

Breastfeeding Linked to Higher IQ in Adulthood

Sharon Mazel
March 2015

Extended nursing not only increases a child's smarts until at least the age of 30 years but also has an impact on that child's education and eventual income.


Summary: Numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding boosts baby's brain power. Now new research shows how the benefits of nursing � specifically an increased IQ � continue into adulthood.

Breastmilk is nature's perfect first food for babies: It's well known that it's ideal for a baby's digestive system (with easy-to-digest protein and fat), it's virtually allergy-proof, it's a tummy-soother (breastfed babies are less likely to have stomach troubles), it's an infection-fighter, it's a fat-fighter (breastfed babies are less likely to be chubby), and it builds more resilient mouths (babies who are breastfed have fewer cavities later on). Breastfeeding also appears to slightly increase a child's IQ, with previous studies showing brain-boosting benefits through the teen years, possibly thanks to the naturally-occurring brain-building fatty acids (DHA) found in breastmilk. Experts say that the closeness and mother-baby interaction that's built into breastfeeding also helps to nurture a baby's intellectual development.

And now, for the first time, new research published in the Lancet Global Health journal is showing that these brain benefits extend into adulthood. Scientists from Brazil found that extended nursing not only increases a child's smarts until at least the age of 30 years but also has an impact on that child's education and eventual income.

Researchers looked at almost 3,500 newborns from across all socioeconomic levels and followed them for 30 years, collecting data on whether they were breastfed and for how long. When the study participants were 30 years old, the researchers administered an IQ test and collected data on educational achievement and income, controlling for factors such as family income, parental education, maternal age, birthweight and so on.

The study found that there was a slight increase in IQ, more years spent in school, and higher adult income for all those who were breastfed � but the longer a child was breastfed, the bigger the boost. For instance, those who were breastfed for longer than a year scored four points higher on their IQ test compared to those who nursed for less than a month. Similar results were seen with years of school (babies breastfed longer than a year spent an additional year in higher education) and income (babies breastfed longer than a year had a slightly higher income as adults compared to babies breastfed for less than a month). In other words, say researchers, the amount of breastmilk also plays a role in the brain-boosting benefits of breastfeeding.

Experts say these findings are exciting but need to be replicated before knowing for sure the exact long-term benefits of breastfeeding. The researchers also acknowledged that though other studies have controlled for factors such as home environment (aka style of parenting), they didn't study the home environment of these parents and children in this study and therefore don't know if these benefits were solely attributable to breastfeeding or a combination of mother-infant bonding, intellectual stimulation in other areas of parenting, and other factors. To whit: Another large recent study found no significant differences in measures of school-readiness at 4 years old between breast- and bottle-fed babies when parenting factors were taken into account, specifically how often mothers read to, taught and otherwise interacted with their babies.

Still worried that not breastfeeding long enough (or not breastfeeding at all) puts your little one at risk of a lower IQ? Worry not. To put these findings about IQ scores in perspective it's important to understand that four points on an IQ test is virtually meaningless, especially considering that the average IQ is between 85 and 115 (that's a range of 30 points!). Keep in mind, too, that IQ scores can change over time, and they're usually just a snapshot of what the test-taker looked like on that particular day with that particular test.

Bottom line: If at all possible, aim to follow the AAP's recommendations of breastfeeding for a full year, exclusively for the first six months, to take advantage of the benefits of breastfeeding. And whether your baby's food comes from bottle or breast, try these feeding bonding tips to increase closeness and connection with your cutie.


The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies

You've probably heard that "breast is best" for baby. Want the finer print on this clever clause? Check out the many advantages of breastfeeding your baby.

It's not false advertising to say that mother's milk is nature's perfect food � and it's no overstatement either. Just as cow's milk is the ideal food for calves and goat's milk the best supper for kids (of the goatish variety), your breast milk is exquisitely tailored to meet the nutritional needs of a newborn human, which tops the list of the advantages of breastfeeding. Human breast milk contains at least 100 ingredients that can't be found in cow's milk � and even top-notch manufacturers have yet to duplicate Mother Nature's formula. Another one of the big benefits of breastfeeding is that it's easy on your baby's delicate tummy, too � breastfed babies' dirty diapers are notoriously less nasty than those of their formula-fed nursery mates (and nursed newborns suffer far less frequently from constipation and almost never from diarrhea). Some babies might be allergic to cow's milk (or soy alternatives), but the odds are slim that your baby's body will object to much about your milk (except not being able to get to it fast enough), though you do need to watch what you eat � if beans are in your diet, for instance, you can wind up with a gassy baby.

Also among the benefits of breastfeeding is that your milk has a lower protein content, which makes it easier for your baby to digest, and its chief protein (lactalbumin) is both more nutritious and more readily broken down than the primary protein in cow's milk (caseinogen).The fats in your milk separate more easily, which is part of the explanation for those sweeter-smelling soiled nappies (as impossible as it may be to believe, the odor really isn't off-putting � at least until solid foods come your baby's way). Finally, unlikebottle feeding your baby with formula, where the milk is the same from feeding to feeding and can to can, the milk your body makes will change in composition in response to your baby's needs (and change in taste based on the foods you're eating). Here's more about the advantages of breastfeeding for your baby.


  •  Protection from infection: Breastfed babies are far less likely to suffer from ear infections, respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, and other common childhood illnesses, in large part because their immune system is bolstered by antibodies and other immune-boosting factors that are passed from the mom through her milk. Colostrum, the protein-rich, low-fat premilk produced by your breasts before real milk comes in, is particularly rich in these healthy ingredients. There are also no worries about bacterial beasties when it comes to breastfeeding your baby: Breast milk is always sterile, no boiling required.
  • Freedom from flab: Chubbiness may be cute, but it's not necessarily a sign of better health, and nursing reduces the risk of excess poundage on your pumpkin. While breastfed babies tend to be leaner than formula-fed babies, their weight gain is steady and appropriate. And it's not just detrimental for Mama's back to haul around a hefty tyke: Studies show that carrying extra weight as a baby is linked to obesity later in life.
  • Brainier babes: Studies show a slight but statistically significant increase in the IQ of breastfed babies compared with those fed formula. One possible reason is that breast milk contains the fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is important for brain development. Another brainy benefit of breastfeeding � all those hours of skin-on-skin contact with Mom are also great for your baby's cognitive and emotional development (in addition to just making your baby feel nurtured and safe).
  • Mighty mouths: Rubber and silicone nipples offer flimsy resistance to a baby's sucks compared with the breast. Because they have to work extra hard for their breakfast, breastfed babies build stronger jaws and have well-developed teeth and palates (in addition to fewer cavities later in life!).
  • A taste for Thai? Want your baby to be an adventurous eater? Start at the breast. Cutting those little taste buds on breast milk, which takes on the flavor of whatever�s in your breastfeeding diet, acclimates a baby early on to a world of flavors beyond pablum. Researchers have found (and so have moms) that nursed babies are less likely to be timid in their tastes than their formula-fed peers once they graduate to the high chair � and more likely to open wide for that spoonful of yams (or that forkful, later on, of curry).

For more information on this subject go to the Mayo Clinic�s web site:

12 facts about breastfeeding
Breastfeeding linked to higher IQ in childhood

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