Breast is best, but won’t make your kids cleverer, researchers from University College Dublin have concluded.
Drawing their results from 8000 families from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal infant cohort, they used standardised tests in conjunction with maternal reports to compare 13 cognitive, linguistic and behavioural data points between children who were breastfed for at least six months and those who weren’t, at ages three and five.
At age three, they found only one differential: decreased hyperactivity in breastfed children. At age five, no statistically significant differences were discerned.
Their results were published in Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
An editorial published alongside the study in Pediatrics acknowledges that the topic of a nexus between breastfeeding and children’s intelligence is contentious. Some meta-analyses suggest there is a link, while others imply the opposite.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association officially states that “the child not being breastfed, or being breastfed for shorter lengths of time, increases the risk of lower IQ”.
So, the medical jury’s still out. But this doesn’t mean breastfeeding doesn’t have numerous other benefits.
The World Health Organisation recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are at least six months old. Per the Australian Breastfeeding Association, breastmilk strengthens infants’ immune systems, thereby warding off infections. It is also speculated to reduce the chance of allergies.
For mums, there are upsides, too. Not only does it strengthen maternal bonds, it also lowers mums’ risk of developing breast cancer.
Yet, according to the latest statistics, Australian mums aren’t exclusively breastfeeding nearly enough. Of the 96 per cent of mothers who initiated breastfeeding, more than half stopped exclusively doing so after three months. This figure jumped over threequarters after five months.
The editorial associated with the study noted that “younger, unmarried, poor, and less educated women of racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to breastfeed”.
Lydia Furman, editorial author and assistant editor of Pediatrics, stated that the question we should be asking first is: “How can we change the landscape so that all mothers can have opportunity and resources to have the chance to choose to breastfeed and to succeed if they so choose?”.Do you have an idea for a story?
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