Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital carried out a comprehensive study on the effects of breastfeeding on babies’ brain development and found that breastfeeding during the child’s first year can boost their IQ when they reach school age.
Previous studies have drawn a link between breastfeeding and cognition, but the paper, published in JAMA Pediatrics, claims to be one of the first to control for other factors influencing a child’s brain development such as mother’s IQ, parental income and education, and external childcare.
1,300 children and their mothers were enrolled in the long-term study and the children were tested on their vocabulary at age 3 and their IQ at age 7.
The study found that the longer mothers breastfed, the higher the child’s score on both the vocabulary (at age 3) and intelligence (at age 7) tests. “For each additional month of breastfeeding, the IQ score was about a third of a point higher,” said lead researcher Mandy Brown Belfort.
Tests measuring memory and learning did not render meaningful results, nor did tests on the children’s motor skills.
Two nutrients found in breast milk, docosahexaenoicacid (DHA) and arachidonic (ARA), are speculated to be responsible for the link, but there has been no solid evidence yet put forward to support this.
Dr. Belfort has stressed the need for parents to be aware that breastfeeding is just one component of a large number of factors contributing to child development.
Successful breastfeeding is not a possibility for all mums; “Talk to your baby, hold your baby, read to your baby,” she says.