Needless to say, breastfeeding has lots of physical and emotional benefits for both babies and their mothers. The common assumption is that besides promoting bonding between mother and baby, breastfeeding protects babies against illnesses and diseases while boosting their brain growth.
But a new Irish study casts doubt on that assumption, especially the claim that breastfeeding makes kids intelligent.
Researchers in Dublin say breastfeeding has no effect on the cognitive development of children. In their study, the researchers found that breastfed kids did not perform significantly better in tests of intelligence than kids who were not breastfed.
The irish children in the study who were breastfed for at least 6 months performed slightly better than their formula-fed peers, but the difference was negligible, affirmed the researchers.
According to the investigators, they found no differences in vocabulary, problem-solving skills, or behavior between breastfed babies and bottle-fed babies.
“[The difference] wasn’t big enough to show statistical significance,” says study author Lisa-Christine Girard, a child development researcher at University College Dublin. “We weren’t able to find a direct causal link between breast-feeding and children’s cognitive outcomes.”
Children who were breastfed for at least 6 months were less hyperactive by age three than kids who were not fed breast milk. However, this difference was no longer significant at age five years, indicating that breastfeeding has no long-term impact on a child’s cognitive development.
To reach their findings, Girard and her team studied 8,000 Irish families from the government-funded Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal infant cohort. Through questionnaires, the team collected information from mothers on whether or not the babies had been breastfed, and for how long.
The investigators also collected the outcome of tests given to the children to assess their cognitive abilities, including problem-solving and vocabulary, at ages 3 and 5 years. They matched breastfed babies and non-breastfed babies for several factors that might affect a kid’s cognitive skills and behavior. These factors included gender of the baby, baby’s weight at birth, their family’s socioeconomic status and whether or not the baby has a sibling.
After analysing the collected data, the research team found no statistically significant difference in cognitive skills of breastfed and non-breastfed kids at age 3 or 5. They did find that the breastfed children displayed a bit less hyperactive behavior at age 3, but the difference was small and had disappeared by age 5.
Given that the medical benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child are many and well documented, the researchers said their study still supports the current recommendations of breastfeeding exclusively for six months.
The study findings have been published in the Journal of Pediatrics.