Breastfeeding boosts boys’ academic success, but not that of girls

Australian study suggests baby boys who are mainly fed by breast for six months have better scores in maths, reading, writing and spelling.

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Boys who were predominately breastfeeding for their first six months appear to do better academically by the time they’re 10 years old, reports the Telegraph. However, no effect was seen with breastfed girls.

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“By looking at boys and girls independently, we found that predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer was significantly associated with increased mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling scores for boys, but no effect of breastfeeding was apparent on the educational attainment of girls for any subject,” reads the study, published in the journal Pediatrics.

“We found significant interactions for mathematics and spelling revealing that boys were more likely than girls to have improved academic scores if they were breastfed for a longer period.

“On average, boys had poorer numeracy and literacy scores than girls; however, the scores were improved if the child was breastfed for six months or longer,” said the study.

So, why does this seem to be the case? The researchers have suggested a few factors could possibly be at play. One is that during breastfeeding the bond between mum and baby is fostered, and this can mean mums are more attentive and supportive of their children. When learning, boys are more responsive to maternal attention and this could account for why breastfeeding had a bigger effect on them. Secondly, breast milk may contain substances that help the brain to develop. The impact of this could be more noticeable on boys because they don’t have the female hormones that protect the brain.

The researchers, from the University of Western Australia, followed just over 1,000 children, from when their mums were 18 weeks pregnant until they were 10 years. Things that may influence academic achievement, such as the mums’ education and household income, were adjust for, though the researchers couldn’t fully take into account the mums’ own intelligence.

“This is a difficult area to research because of the need to allow for all of the possible variables that influence educational attainment.

“However this study has controlled for these as far as possible and adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding is the best way to feed babies from birth to six months of age and beyond.

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“It is vital that in the light of this evidence women and their families are given the highest quality of information antenatally and excellent support to breast feed postnatally. It is worrying that recent reviews of the support women are getting suggest that this is one aspect of maternity services where resources are lacking and care provision needs to improve,” commented Cathy Warwick, from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

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