Breastfeeding and intelligence
A study published in early October 2006 published results that breastfeeding does not affect a child's intelligence.
"In the largest study ever to address the issue, researchers found a positive impact for breastfeeding on intelligence only when other potential contributors -- such as the mother's IQ and the parents' educational and economic status -- were not taken into consideration."
How could that be? many wonder, because in the past there have been several other scientific studies that have shown a positive effect of breastfeeding on intelligence.
Just stop and think: does ONE new study suddenly nullify all other previous results?
The way media outlets report on scientific studies, you would almost think so.
But that is almost never the case. We should never believe blindly any one study's results, especially if it the news reports sound sensational.
A new study can add to our knowledge, but if it contradicts previous results, that does not mean the earlier studies were in the wrong. It means that scientists and researchers need to find out WHY there is a discrepancy. Usually there IS an explanation for conflicting results.
1) How is breastfeeding defined?
This study was using data from 1979 US national longitudinal survey of youth. In that, women had been asked whether they breast fed the child at all, and, if so, how old the child was when they stopped breast feeding.
In other words, the children classified as "breastfed" in the study could have been receiving 70% of their nutrition from formula, and 30% from breast milk. Or 90% and 10%. Or 0% and 100%. The children were classified as "breastfed" if they were breastfed at all, and formula-fed if otherwise.
Drawing conclusions about the effect of breastfeeding based on such a distinction is like drawing conclusions about the effect of not smoking in a population where some people claimed to have smoked continuously, while others said they smoked partially, occasionally, or intensively for short periods.
Or, one would not expect that research looking at the impact of eating vegetables on health would be useful if it was comparing a group of non-vegetable eaters who ate at McDonalds every day and a group of vegetable eaters who ate McDonalds 6 days a week and vegetables on one day would be useful. Similarly, you cannot expect that token breastfeeding can wipe out the impact of predominant formula feeding.
The crucial question that was not asked in that 1979 survey was, "Was the child exclusively breastfed, and if yes, for how long?"
The exclusively breastfed babies are THE true control group when trying to access effects of breastfeeding. (Unfortunately, when using United States data, those kind of babies are not very numerous so that makes conducting studies harder.) Studies should compare babies exclusively breastfed for first 6 months of life to totally formula-fed babies. The large group of mixed-feeders just confounds everything.
2) Another possible variable to take into account is the breastfeeding mother's diet.
We know that the fatty acid DHA affects babies' intelligence; that is why it is now added to many formulas.
Another fact well proven is that breast milk levels of DHA vary according to how much DHA mom gets. Eating fish (or taking fish oils) makes the levels go up.
In fact, a recent report Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks by Institute of Medicine found evidence that maternal consumption of omega-3 fatty acids through seafood can contribute to vision and cognitive development in infants and lengthen the duration of gestation.
Typically, US mothers' don't eat much fish and their milk's DHA levels are low. But even a governmental agency is now basically recommending that mothers eat certain types of fish (avoiding the large predator fish that have the highest levels of mercury) to get adequate amounts of DHA fatty acids because it helps visual and cognitive development of their babies.
So there's an idea for yet a different study: how does mother's fish consumption affect her breastfed baby's intelligence?
A study published in 2007 found a VERY interesting relationship between breastfeeding and intelligence: it showed that whether breastfeeding affects a child's intelligence depends on a certain gene. In 90% of the children, the gene is such a way that breastfeeding DOES affect the child's intelligence, probably by affecting the fatty acid metabolism, or the way the body processes fatty acids. In the remaining 10%, breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding has no effect on intelligence.
This important finding now sheds some light on the previous studies that have had mixed results: there is another counfounding factor there, in the children's genetic material. But it further confirms the intellectual advantage breastfeeding can give for 90% of the children. (And of course even the 10% are helped by breast milk in other ways.)
Then, a study published in 2008 studied nearly 14,000 children in Belarus, and found that at age 6, the breastfed group scored almost 6 points higher on an IQ test. This is an improtant result because it is a large group, a randomized controlled trial, and the study design was such that the researchers were able to see the effects of breastfeeding alone without the confusing variables of maternal socioeconomic status and intelligence.
The association between duration of breastfeeding and adult intelligence.
Moderation of breastfeeding effects on the IQ by genetic variation in fatty acid metabolism
Breastfeeding Boosts Mental Health, New Research Reveals
Study: Breastfeeding pushes kids up a social ladder
Breastfeeding and child cognitive development: new evidence from a large randomized trial.
Breastfeeding and intelligence from InFact Canada - referencing four scientific studies on the matter.
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I believe that breastfeeding increases intelligence. My daughter was raised very poor and received the mathematics award at her school. She was breast fed for four years. She is also better at sports than any of her friends. Children don't need to be breastfed. But, the difference in their later behavior is obvious.
After reading Breastfeeding and intelligence the article brings to mind several questions. Why was the bf and ff issue brought to light on MSN when the "study" concluded, other bf studies have never been released so publically, I feel it undermines all EBF mothers. The next question is who funded the research? Quite often formula companies will fund research to help their own interests. I just wonder who funded this research? Ande
I don't know about the MSN issue... all news outlets were publishing the results of this study. Also, newswires and websites probably have published other previous breastfeeding-related research, too, but news agencies tend to emphasize more those news pieces that have a sensational air.
This researchers in question were funded by The Medical Research Council (MRC) in the UK. They are a publically-funded organization.
Your website is AWESOME!!!
Great analysis of above media story/scientific study and one good example on how to think for yourself. What a great resource for new moms navigating their way through just breastfeeding their babies let alone having to navigate all this other social B.S.!!
luv u, luv u, luv u!
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