Breastfeeding and Infant intelligence

Mamas on Bedrest: Want a Smarter Baby? Breastfeed!

March 30th, 2015

nursing infantGood Monday Morning, Mamas!!

According to a recent study done by Brazilian Researchers published in The Lancet Global Health, “Breast-fed babies may be smarter, better educated and richer as adults”. This article so intrigued me that I had to read through and see just what the researchers saw as the determining factors.

According to the Medline report and the actual publication, Brazilian researchers followed enrolled and started following 5914 neonates who were breastfeeding to gather information about IQ and breastfeeding duration. The data was analyzed between June of 2012 and February 2013.  3493 participants remained from the original study group. The researchers found that the durations of total breastfeeding (in months) and predominantly breastfeeding (breastfeeding as the main form of nutrition with some other foods) were positively associated with higher IQ, higher educational attainment, and higher income. Babies who were breastfed for 12 months or more were found to have higher IQ scores, more years of education, and higher monthly incomes than did those who were breastfed for less than 1 month. So based on these findings, the researchers concluded that “Breastfeeding is associated with improved performance in intelligence tests 30 years later, and might have an important effect in real life, by increasing educational attainment and income in adulthood.”

While the results of this study are in line with many other studies, the article has aroused some criticism. Dr. David Mendez, a neonatologist at Miami Children’s Hospital, said “Parents should not take the message from this study that ‘if you do not breast-feed, your child will not be a successful adult.'” The researchers found that it was duration of breastfeeding that was key. It did not depend on the infants’ families being wealthy or on the parents being highly educated, outcomes in the infants still showed breastfed babies were more successful and those who were breastfed longer were more successful.

What those critical to the study did point out is that it does take time and effort to breastfeed. Parents who are dedicated to breastfeeding and mamas who have a strong support while they breastfeed are going to be more successful. Moreover, they are more likely to be invested in the overall development of their child, making choices and exhibiting habits that nurture their child and guide them in more positive behaviors. They caution people against thinking that breastfeeding alone will give a child an advantage. However, the more its studied, the more we can see that breastfeeding does in fact lead to numerous benefits-for infants as well as for their mamas. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Breastfed infants are getting high quantities of saturated fatty acids (of which breastmilk is composed) and which the infant brain preferentially uses for growth and development
  • Breastmilk contains important immunologic factors that are passed from mama to baby so that babies are protected from many dangerous diseases while they are growing and being immunized.
  • Breastmilk is always ready; perfect amount, at perfect temperature. No need for bottles, or additional time to mix or prepare
  • Breastfeeding is economical. No additional costs to the family
  • Breastfeeding provides additional “skin to skin” time for mama and baby and numerous studies have shown that skin to skin, cuddling and closeness improves growth and development in infants
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to help some mothers lose the pregnancy weight
  • Breastfeeding is linked to reduced rates of breast cancer in mothers.

With all of these benefits and more, one would think that Breastfeeding would be a “no brainer” (pun intended!!). However, Breastfeeding is still somewhat controversial here in the United States, despite all the scientific evidence for its benefit, the “Breast is Best” campaigns and the recommendations from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatricians. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 79% of American mamas initiate breastfeeding at birth, and at 6 months that number drops to somewhere around 27%. At 12 months, a mere 12% of mamas are still breastfeeding their babies. Barriers to breastfeeding include:

  • Difficulty latching on
  • Lack of support from parnter/familly
  • Painful/sore nipples
  • Insufficient milk supply
  • Mother returns to work/limited ability to pump.

Many of these barriers are being addressed. “Baby Friendly Hospitals”(1) are allowing more time for mamas and babies to bond right after birth and during the hospital stay. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed and lactation consultants are available to assist with any logistical difficulties. Lactation consultants are also available to answer questions partners or family members may have, and to educate the family on the benefits of breastfeeding and their important role in supporting mama.

Public breastfeeding is not widely accepted in the United States and many states, cities and local areas have laws/restrictions about how and where mothers may feed their infants. Breastfeeding advocates are working to have many of these laws and rules overturned, but face an uphill battle in some areas. Legislation has been passed in many states requiring employers to provide “pumping breaks” for breastfeeding mamas, as well as quiet, private and comfortable areas in which mamas can pump. These are all works in progress.

We cannot ignore the fact that up until the turn of the 20th century, everyone was breastfed. While the wealthy or nobility may have had “wet nurses” (other, often poor or servant lactating women breastfed their babies), all babies were breastfed until they were old enough to eat mashed table foods or cereals. It’s how we as a species survived. It has worked for centuries. Why is it suddenly “passe”?

I am sure that this article will continue to spark controversy. However, I hope that we don’t lose fact of the basic principle: babies were meant to be breastfed by their mothers. The physiology of a woman’s breast, and the milk that she makes is specifically designed to feed her infants regardless of the size of her breast tissue. Most infants can breastfeed unless they have a physical anomaly prohibiting them from doing so, and this is rare. Even in such cases, if mothers can pump, the infant can still reap the benefits in breastmilk. In mothers who have difficulties, with support, education and guidance, most all mamas who want to breast feed, can. The data is in and yes, Breast is best-for infants and quite possibly for the adults they will become!

 

 

References

1. Prof Cesar G Victora, PhD, Dr Bernardo Lessa Horta, PhDcorrespondenceemail, Christian Loret de Mola, PhD, Luciana Quevedo, PhD, Ricardo Tavares Pinheiro, PhD, Denise P Gigante, PhD, Helen Gonçalves, PhD, Fernando C Barros, PhD. “Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil” The Lancet Global Health. Volume 3, No. 4, e199–e205, April 2015 (Released online March 17, 2015).

2. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program that was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991 to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding. It recognizes and awards birthing facilities who successfully implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding (i) and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (ii).