A new study has shown that breastfeeding does not have the long-term cognitive benefits that many scientists (and people in general) had thought in the past. The investigators said that economic and educational factors could have conditioned previous research and results could have been misleading.

There are many positive outcomes of breastfeeding in babies such as improving the child’s ability to fight infections or helping premature infants on getting stronger faster. It is more likely for a baby that is being breastfed to avoid the sudden infant death syndrome. However, even when new mother’s common belief is the other way around, the study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics shows that it is as good as it gets when it comes to breastfeeding benefits.

“Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large,” says the World Health Organization. Image credit: SelectStock—Getty Images/Vetta.

An older study conducted in Belarus showed that breastfeeding behaviors improved a child’s brain capacity. In that study, which consisted of a clinical trial that involved more than 15,000 babies, the infants were randomly assigned for consuming either breast milk or getting special support. This support was based on the guidelines for child alimentation given by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The results of that study showed that those babies who were breastfed scored better punctuations at verbal and IQ tests. Overall, those infants were 7 points higher on the scores than those who weren’t breastfed, and even teachers (allegedly) could tell the difference between a kid from the first group (breastfeed) and a kid from the second group. These kids showed better abilities in writing and reading exercises, according to the study.

Why earlier studies might be misleading

A group of researchers conducted an analysis of the latest 17 studies that searched for the relation between the IQ of babies and breastfeeding. The top 5 studies considered regarding quality (each one of them with at least 500 cases) also found a relation between both factors, only that in this opportunity, the difference between both groups of babies was 1.76 points in the IQ results. In this case, the mother’s IQ was also taken into consideration.

The latest study published in the journal Pediatrics was conducted in Ireland and included the presence of 7,500 babies who were studied since the time they were born as part of the Growing Up in Ireland national investigation.

Smart Baby
The kids were evaluated at the ages of 3 and 5, to analyze their cognitive abilities at different times of their lives. Image credit: Beagle Street.

At the age of three, each parent was asked to respond a specific questionnaire that was oriented to measure the kid’s abilities regarding vocabulary and problem-solving mechanisms. This test was looking to know the cognitive capacity of each participant along with the analysis of general behavior. The same test was repeated to the parents when their kids were 5.

The team of investigators found that by the time of the first test, the babies who were breastfed for six months presented less hyperactive behaviors along with more advanced solving skills at problematic situations. However, by the time of the second test, the difference between both groups of kids was “negligible.”

It seems like the results of this study serve to demystify the great benefits of breastfeeding regarding cognitive improvements, Dr. Brooke Orosz, an adviser to the organization Fed is Best, told CNN. Orosz, who was not part of the study, said the alleged benefits of breastfeeding were practically “non-existing” when controlling all the variables, as he admitted that analyzing education level and income of each family gives more accurate results at the time of conducting investigations.

“We did find direct effect of breastfeeding on a reduction in hyperactive behaviours when the children were three years old. This wasn’t found at five years, suggesting there may be other factors that are more influential as children develop,” study lead author Lisa-Christine Girard, from University College Dublin, told The Independent.

Breastfeeding is positive and the study does not contradict that fact

The most important thing about breastfeeding is not breastfeeding itself, says Nancy Hurst, but the nurturing relationship between the mother and the child. Hurst is director of the Women’s Support Services at Texas Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women.

Many experts have recommended new parents to involve themselves into the literature that teaches that kind of knowledge as it becomes fundamental in the early stages of a child’s life. In this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends parents to breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months, and for the next six months to start including solid meals into their diet regimes while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Mother
“You need to just enjoy the relationship — that is most important to nurture the mother-baby relationship. Even if at times that doesn’t mean exclusive breastfeeding,” Hurst told CNN this Monday. Image credit: Food And Nutrition Magazine.

Source: CNN