Children who are breastfed have higher IQs and perform better academically, the results of a major new study indicate.
According to researchers at McGill University in Canada, this is the largest randomised study of breastfeeding ever undertaken. It involved 14,000 children who were followed for a period of 6.5 years.
As part of the study, half of the mothers were exposed to an intervention that encouraged prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding, while the other half continued their usual maternity hospital and paediatric care and follow-up.
This allowed the researchers to measure the effect of breastfeeding on the children’s cognitive development without the results being biased by differences in factors such as the mother’s intelligence or her way of interacting with her baby.
The children’s cognitive ability was assessed using IQ tests which were administered by the children’s paediatricians. Their teachers also rated their academic performance in reading, writing, mathematics and other subjects.
The study found that both sets of measures were significantly higher in the group receiving the breastfeeding promotion intervention.
“Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding makes kids smarter”, said lead investigator, Dr Michael Kramer of the McGill University faculty of medicine.
He pointed out that the effects of breastfeeding on brain development and intelligence ‘has long been a popular and hotly debated topic’.
“While most studies have been based on association however, we can now make a causal inference between breastfeeding and intelligence because of the randomised design of our study”, Dr Kramer added.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Archives of General Psychiatry.
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