News / Health

Breastfeeding Duration May Be Associated with Intelligence

World Breastfeeding Week, which occurs August 1-7, has a simple goal: to increase the number of mothers who breastfeed.
World Breastfeeding Week, which occurs August 1-7, has a simple goal: to increase the number of mothers who breastfeed.
Jessica Berman
Add increased intelligence to the list of benefits associated with breastfeeding. 

According to researchers, children who were breastfed longer had higher scores on intelligence or IQ tests.

Using standardized tests, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts measured the IQ of some 1,300 children whose mothers were enrolled in a long-term study that looked for ways to improve maternal and child health.

Investigators tested the youngsters at age 3 to determine their ability to understand language. Lead researcher Mandy Brown Belfort says aptitude was an average of 2.5 percent higher among children who received nothing but breast milk for the first year, compared to infants who were given formula.

“And then at age 7, we looked at verbal and non-verbal IQ and there the effect was a little bit stronger.  So, for each additional month of breastfeeding, the IQ score was about a third of a point higher," said Belfort.

Belfort, a neonatologist at Boston Children’s and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, says breastfeeding was not associated with higher scores on a test that measured memory and learning.

However, researchers found that visual motor skills, or the ability of the eyes to guide movements, were better among 3 year olds whose mothers consumed two or more servings of fish per week.

At this point, Belfort says investigators can only speculate as to the reasons why breastfed children had higher IQs.

“One is that there are either nutrients or other substances in breast milk that benefit the developing brain but haven’t been discovered yet, and so aren’t being added routinely to infant formula," she said.

Another possible explanation for the effect of breastfeeding duration on IQ, according to Belfort, is there is something about the interaction between mother and baby that boosts the child’s intelligence.

A study on the link between the length of breastfeeding and IQ in children is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.  

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
July 31, 2013 9:16 PM
The role of a mother's milk is extremely important in a child's development. It is the best for feeding and is preferable. Several studies have already linked the mother's breast milk to strong immune systems. So, the breast feeding link to higher intelligence is no su rprise!

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
July 31, 2013 3:03 AM
There are a lot of unbelievable findings in the world of epidemiology. What can be said in the world of epidemiology is only correlation not causalty. We should not be cheated by probability-value of statistics, sole and main base of epidemiology.

by: Humanoid from: Virginia
July 30, 2013 4:58 PM
The brain prefers Ketones to Glucose.

by: dtschuck from: Tennessee
July 30, 2013 4:28 PM
"At this point, Belfort says investigators can only speculate as to the reasons why breastfed children had higher IQs."

Ah, maybe breast feeding has nothing to do with higher intelligence and every thing to do with the intelligence of the people that choose to breast feed, which tend to be people of higher intelligence and socio-economic levels, so the kid inherited the parent's smart genes....big deal. Not exactly earth shaking news.
In Response

by: aspera
July 30, 2013 5:57 PM
The study controlled for the IQ of the parents. The author of this article misses the second major conclusion of the journal article, which was that the verbal IQ of the children was also positively correlated with fish consumption in the mother, leading to higher DHA levels, which is known to affect cognitive development.
In Response

by: none from: usa
July 30, 2013 5:23 PM
Poor women will choose to breast feed. If she has no money, then free milk is better than no milk. Even the platypus breastfeeds (or fur feeds since it has no teat), and it it's the smartest animal out there.
In Response

by: tom from: sacramento
July 30, 2013 4:59 PM
Cause and effect, how does it work?


"Correlation and causation, why does one matter and one not so much?"

My wife didn't produce enough breast milk, so we fed our son formula, but otherwise cared greatly about his development and education. He's 7 and reads at a 10th grade level. We haven't tested his IQ yet, but mine is 160 and he looks to have about the same capabilities as I do.

And thats why crap like this doesn't mean anything. Breast feeding is apple-like in its religious fervor. I'm quite sure that all things being equal, breast feeding is somewhat better than other options. But nobody should ever feel bad about using other options or feeling like they're consigning their child to being an idiot if they don't quite follow the religion.

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