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Breastfeeding bolsters child's intelligence, study finds

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new study has found that breastfed babies score better on intelligence tests later on in development. The study adds credence that new moms should consider breastfeeding their children. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The study examined more than 1,300 moms and their babies that were breastfed for periods ranging from less than a month to more than a year. The study found that each month of breastfeeding bolstered a 0.3-point increase in intelligence by age 3 and 0.5-point increase by age 7.

These differences held up even when the researchers controlled for parental intelligence, income, employment and education. The benefit was biggest when babies were breastfed exclusively for the first six months, which is an endorsement target from experts that is sometimes untenable for working moms.


"We should do whatever we can do to help women carry out their decision to breastfeed," study author Dr. Mandy Belfort says. Belfort is the neonatologist at Boston Children's Hospital, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while three out of four new moms start out breastfeeding, less than half continue for six months or more. Just 15 percent breastfeed exclusively for six months which is the benchmark set by the American Academy of Pediatrics.


"I can understand as well as anyone the challenges of continuing to breastfeed once a mom goes back to work," Belfort, a mother of three says. "I think our findings definitely support an investment in helping moms breastfeed their babies."


The study is not the first to link breastfeeding to later intelligence. A study published in 2010 found that children who were breastfed for six months or more outscored their formula-fed classmates in tests of reading, writing and math at age 10. 


How breastfeeding confers intelligence remains unclear.


"I don't think anyone knows the answer to that question," Belfort says, speculating that breast milk may contain some unidentified nutrient that benefits the developing brain. "There may also be something about the bonding between mother and infant during those many, many, many hours that may play a role."


The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, has long been suspected to confer some of breast milk's benefits, leading companies like Mead Johnson to supplement their formulas with the fatty acids.


Susan Burger of the New York Lactation Consultant Association said she hopes the increasing evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding will translate into more support for new moms. "I think it's great that there's another one of these studies," Burger says. "But all the studies in the world aren't going to help if women can't get support."


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