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Is There A Link Between Breastfed Children and High IQs?

Many benefits come with breastfeeding, but it's not going to determine what happens to your child's cognitive development in the long-term.
  • Published on: 08 Mar 2021
  • 5 min read
Is There A Link Between Breastfed Children and High IQs?

Over the years, different studies have shown a link between breastfeeding and high IQ.

A long-term study in Brazil where 3,500 babies from various walks of life were studied into adulthood confirmed this claim. It was found that babies who were breastfed for longer periods scored higher on IQ tests as adults than those who were not.

According to experts, even though the result isn't conclusive, mothers should breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life. However, a mother can choose whether to do this or not due to health complications or personal reasons.

The findings were published in Lancet Global Health where it was further revealed that other factors could also contribute to an individual's high IQ outside breastfeeding. Some of these factors include birth weight, mother's education, family income, and so on.

A national director of health and well-being in Public Health England, Kevin Fenton, also lent his voice to this claim. Evidence showed that breastfeeding has numerous benefits for babies, including reduced gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in children.

According to Fenton, Public Health England advises that healthy and willing mums should embrace exclusive breastfeeding. For many experts, breastfeeding remains the best regardless of if it will make the babies smarter or not.

breastfed baby

Doctors also encourage mothers to choose to breastfeed if they can because breastfed children are less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome, infections, or any other reasons. Overall, the longer the breastfeeding period, the higher the benefits.

Another clinical trial was carried out where 16,000 infants in Belarus were randomly selected and divided into two groups. The first group was assigned to get special breastfeeding support, while the second group was kept in the hospital's usual care.

The result showed that babies in the first group scored 7.5 points higher on the verbal IQ test and 5.9 points higher on total IQ. Teachers also observed the differences as children in the first group scored higher marks in school for writing and reading.

WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize the many benefits of breastfeeding, but higher IQ is not one of the benefits.

In another study published in the PLOS Medicine journal, it was discovered that breastfeeding does not impact the general neurocognitive function of a child by the time they're 16 years old.

What Are The Cognitive Benefits of Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding comes with many benefits, but the debate is still ongoing to ascertain its cognitive advantage. Children learn and understand through cognitive ability, including all mental processes that involve thinking, memory, and decision making. It also includes behavior, imagination, and creativity.

Many studies have shown that breastfeeding's cognitive advantage in children contributes to their judgment, intelligence, problem-solving ability, and memory. But is it really true that a breastfed child will have a higher IQ than a formula-fed one?

breastfeeding

Some studies show that breastfeeding provides long-term cognitive benefits, while some studies have proven otherwise. For instance, a 2017 report in Pediatrics shows that breastfeeding has no long-term cognitive benefits on children.

In the study, 7500 babies were observed until the age of 5. Researchers evaluated them based on their behavior, language, and problem-solving skills until 9 months, three months, and five years. Teachers and parents were involved in the research, where they filled out questionnaires to help determine their children's cognitive ability. The result of the study showed some positive short-term breastfeeding cognitive effects but no long-term advantages.

The study did show that children who were breastfed for the first six months of their lives were better at problem-solving than those who were not. But by the time they were three years old, they weren't as hyperactive as before. By the time they were five years old, the difference between breastfed and formula-fed children was too minimal to be noticeable.

Overall, all the studies trying to establish the link between breastfeeding and cognitive ability have different findings. Still, many of these studies support the belief that there is a link between IQ and breastfeeding.

Why Doesn't Everyone Agree?

happy family

Everyone does not agree because it's quite hard to determine if breast milk or other factors are responsible for increasing a child's IQ.

Some studies claim that breastfeeding alone is responsible for high IQ, which isn't the case. Rather, a child will develop high cognitive ability if they grow up in an environment that supports them.

Other studies point out that breast milk contains arachidonic acid (ARA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are the essential fatty acids that help promote the development of the nervous system and the brain. This is why some formulas contain these essential fatty acids for better cognitive and eye development.

The breastfeeding duration is another area of debate. Some scientists believe that breastfeeding, regardless of the amount of time, will have the same effect. In contrast, some believe that exclusive breastfeeding or breastfeeding for an extended period represents the real effect of breastfeeding. To them, the longer the breastfeeding period, the more benefits for a child's IQ.

What Else Impacts Cognitive Outcome in Breastfed vs. Formula-fed Children?

Whether you feed your child infant formula or breast milk, your child needs the right nutrients for cognitive development. Several factors contribute to high cognitive ability. Some of these factors are:

  • When a mother gets the right care and doesn't engage in harmful behaviors during pregnancy.

  • Parenting methods can improve cognitive learning or discourage it. For instance, reading a book to your child, engaging in active play, encouraging creativity, and letting a child explore and listening to music can help develop a child's language, writing and reading skills.

Is Breastfeeding Still Beneficial?

Even though there's an ongoing debate about breastfeeding’s impact on cognitive health, breastfeeding your child comes with many benefits.

One of these benefits is the presence of white blood cells, enzymes, and antibodies that help protect against infections and boost your baby's immune system. It also helps reduce childhood obesity, diarrhea, SIDS, and other illnesses that affect infants.

As a mother, you're also protected against the risk of developing ovarian or breast cancer when you breastfeed your baby.

Conclusion

The results from the various studies show that there is no specific proof that there is a long-term effect of breastfeeding on a child's IQ. Therefore, it continues to be a matter of debate, and more research will be needed.

However, breastfeeding is essential, but it shouldn't be a must if a mother doesn't want to. Many benefits come with breastfeeding, but it's not going to determine what happens to your child's cognitive development in the long-term. But then, health organizations worldwide still recommend breastfeeding even though it's a personal decision and shouldn't be forced on anyone.

If you must breastfeed, do so because you want to and it's healthy for you. If not, do what is best for you and your baby by providing healthy nutrition and a loving environment. You should also engage in positive behaviors that will help your child's physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive growth and development.

 


Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Nadia Rumbolt

Nadia Rumbolt is a mom of many trades, including creative writing, blogging, van life, minimalism, veganism, the beach, nature, and the occult.

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