Breast-Feeding Linked to Intelligence

The health benefits of breastfeeding have been debated for years. A new study reveals the length of time a baby is breastfed may be associated with their level of intelligence later in life.

Previous studies suggest a positive association between breastfeeding and cognitive development in early and middle childhood. Other studies show intelligence is unstable during this time. Therefore, researchers suggest it is possible that children who are not breastfed could still attain the same intelligence levels as those children who are.

To further examine the association between breastfeeding and intelligence, researchers from Denmark and Indiana University evaluated two independent samples of young adults. The first was a group of 973 men and women and the second consisted of nearly 2,300 men. Both groups were divided into five categories dependent on how long they were breastfed.

Intelligence was measured using two different methods. The mixed-sex sample was evaluated using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and the all male sample was evaluated with the Borge Priens Prove (BPP). Researchers say, “Independent of a wide range of possible confounding factors, a significant positive association between duration of breastfeeding and intelligence was observed…” in both samples.

Authors of the study provide three possible explanations for the positive link between breastfeeding and intelligence. They say breast milk may contain nutrients not found in cow’s milk or formula. They point to the physical and psychological contact between mother and child during feedings, and they consider the unidentified factors that could not be controlled in the analyses.

Authors conclude that their findings “…indicate that breastfeeding may have long-term positive effects on cognitive and intellectual development.”

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002;287:2365-2371

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