Does breastfeeding have an effect on IQ?
Dr. Laura- Is there research that proves that breastfeeding has a positive effect on IQ?
Definitely! The latest scientific research shows that breastfeeding raises IQ by three to five points.
A comprehensive review of 11 different studies involving over 7000 children, published in the October 2007 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that breastfed infants tested 5.2 IQ points higher on average than formula-fed infants.
But wait. Is that really because breast-feeding is linked to better brain development? Or is it because the mothers who choose to breastfeed are more educated? Or maybe because breast-feeding is associated with higher incomes, which are also associated with higher IQs?
After all, the association between breast-feeding and IQ is well established. But many researchers have assumed that's because well-educated, wealthier women are more likely to breast-feed. Their children score better on mental tests, but that might be because of class and educational advantages rather than because of breast-feeding.
Another common theory offered by nursing mothers and backed up by scientists is that breastfeeding is associated with better maternal bonding, and the bonding raises the kids' IQs. We know that's true.
But the latest research shows that although bonding, education and income all do raise IQ, breastmilk by itself has a significant effect.
Nutritionist James Anderson, who led the study, says that within the IQ increase, his team was able to separate other factors from the purely nutritional benefits of feeding babies human milk. "Our best estimates are that maternal bonding and the decision to breast-feed account for about 40 percent of the IQ increase, but that 60 percent -- 3.2 points -- are related to the actual nutritional value of the breast milk," he said.
This is the first large study that has controlled for maternal bonding, the decision to breast-feed, education, income, birth weight, maternal smoking, and even birth order. Controlling for all these factors, breastfed babies still tested over three points higher in IQ than formula-fed babies.
Babies' brains develop rapidly in the first year after birth, laying the neural groundwork for later intelligence, mood, and emotional self-control. This brain development depends on the food babies receive, which is, of course, their only source of nutrients. Given that our human ancestors survived on breastmilk for the first couple years of life, human brain development is adapted to and depends on the nutrients in breastmilk.
In fact, many experts now feel that feeding babies formula is a wholesale experiment which may have unforeseen consequences, especially given that our science is just beginning to figure out what's in breast milk. Even some breast-milk components that have long been known to be important in brain development, such as the fatty acids DHA and AA, have still not been incorporated into infant formulas. And what about all the components of breastmilk that we haven't yet identified? Our science still has a long way to go to catch up to Mother Nature!