Years later, a study has linked breastfeeding babies to better cognitive scores in children (stock image)

Children who are breastfed after six months are better thinkers than teenagers, study shows

Babies who are breastfed for longer are better thinkers than teens, research suggests.

A study of more than 7,800 British children looked at those who had their breast milk for less than two months, two to four months, four to six months or more than a year.

Researchers found that those who were breastfed the longest, older than one year, performed best in vocabulary tests at age 14 compared to children who were not breastfed.

The research, by experts from Oxford Universitysaid the differences in scores equaled three IQ points.

Meanwhile, children who were breastfed for four to six months did the best in a test of memory, reasoning and spatial awareness, compared with children who were never breastfed, at ages seven and 11.

Breastfeeding was associated with a ‘modest’ increase in children’s intelligence, even when their mothers’ intelligence and their socioeconomic circumstances were taken into account.

The World Health Organization advises mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least six months.

But only about 48 percent of British and 52 percent of American mothers breastfeed this time.

Years later, a study has linked breastfeeding babies to better cognitive scores in children (stock image)

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BREAST FEEDING?

Any amount of breast milk is beneficial, but exclusively breastfeeding your baby for six months provides the most benefit to babies and mothers.

Benefits for newborns include:

  • Reduces the risk of infections, resulting in fewer hospital visits, diarrhea and vomiting, SIDS, obesity and cardiovascular disease in adulthood
  • Reduce the number of respiratory, ear, chest and intestinal infections
  • Can reduce the baby’s risk of childhood leukemia

Benefits for mothers include:

  • Reducing the uterus: After giving birth, the uterus gradually shrinks, but breastfeeding will help speed it up
  • Bonding with newborns: breastfeeding can help mothers bond with their babies
  • Protects health: lowers the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, weak bones, diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Source: NHS

dr. Reneé Pereyra-Elías, who led the study from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, said: “These results should not be a cause for concern for women who were not breast-feeding, or were unable to breast-feed, because the potential gain in IQ among children who have been breastfed for several months compared to children who have never been breastfed is equivalent to two to three points.

‘But if many children increased their IQ by about three points on average, we could see important differences.

‘That is why it is important that women who want to breastfeed are supported in this.’

Breast milk contains polyunsaturated fatty acids and nutrients such as iron that help children’s brain development.

Experts say it also helps children have fewer infections and illnesses, which can help their intelligence as they have fewer days off.

Researchers looked at the association between breastfeeding duration and thinking skills in children from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, who were recruited as infants between 2000 and 2002 and given cognitive tests at ages five, seven, 11 and 14.

Of the study participants, about a third of the children had never been breastfed, but 23 percent had been breastfed for at least six months.

The strongest link between breastfeeding and vocabulary was seen in children aged 14 years, who were given a list of 20 words ranging from ‘unique’ to ‘pusillanimous’ and were asked to select the word with the closest meaning from a list.

The 14-year-olds who were breastfed for at least 12 months had a test result nearly three IQ points higher than teens of the same age who were never breastfed.

Children also understood words better in simpler tests, compared with children who had never been breastfed, among seven- and 11-year-olds who had been breastfed for four months or more.

The duration of breastfeeding was not linked to vocabulary at age five.

The researchers wanted to ensure that the results were not determined by the intelligence of mothers, assessed using a vocabulary test, and the socioeconomic status of children, assessed by their parents’ occupation and the mother’s education level.

Children with better-educated mothers and children from wealthier families tend to be breastfed for longer and may also benefit from tutoring, extra help with homework, or trips to zoos, museums and galleries.

But even taking this into account, children who were breastfed for longer did better in cognitive tests.

Children who were breastfed for four to six months, compared with children who were never breastfed, did better at age seven in a spatial test where they were asked to fit colored squares into a shape, and slightly better at age five.

They also made fewer mistakes when they were 11 when they were asked to look at tokens in boxes on a computer screen, remembering which ones they had already checked after being covered.

These tests, done up to age 11, measured spatial awareness and problem-solving ability.

The study, published in the journal Plos Aconcludes that breastfeeding for longer can increase children’s intelligence as much as having a smart mother or coming from a wealthy family and ‘shouldn’t be underestimated’.

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