We have known for a long time that breastfeeding your baby gives many important benefits. First, there is the critical bonding that takes place between mother and baby. The infant and mother draw so much closer due to the touch of warm skin- the pheromones in the skin create permanent emotional attachment-, and the powerful antibodies in the breast milk help protect baby from many different infections. The nutritional value of breast milk is unequaled, and is especially important for brain development. There is also an exchange of good bacteria between mother and baby. These bacteria help the baby digest her food efficiently, help develop the immune system, and reduce the chances of colic and other stomach problems. I could go on and on. Now there is an important new study showing that the benefits of prolonged breastfeeding extend well into adulthood!
Prolonged breast-feeding is associated with higher intelligence in adulthood, longer schooling, and higher adult income, according to a study published March 17 in the Lancet Global Health. You can find the full study here. The researchers conducted a prospective, population-based birth cohort study of newborns born in 1982 in Brazil. The study was conducted in an area where poor and rich mothers were equally as likely to breastfeed. This helped sort out the potential effects of breastfeeding from socioeconomic advantage that can also influence a child’s intelligence and achievement.
The researchers recorded information about breast-feeding in early childhood and examined IQ, educational attainment, and income when the offspring were approximately aged 30 years.
They used statistical methods to adjust for confounding variables, including parental education, genomic ancestry, maternal smoking during pregnancy, maternal age, type of delivery, maternal body mass index before pregnancy, gestational age, and birth weight. Information about IQ and breast-feeding duration was available for 3493 of 5914 neonates originally enrolled in the study.
The researchers found a positive association between durations of total and predominant breast-feeding and IQ, educational attainment, and income, as well as dose–response associations with breast-feeding duration for IQ and educational attainment.
Those who had been breast-fed for 12 months or longer had higher IQ scores, more years of education, and higher monthly incomes, compared with those who had been breast-fed for less than 1 month. The authors concluded that, “Our study provides the first evidence that prolonged breastfeeding not only increases intelligence until at least the age of 30 years but also has an impact both at an individual and societal level by improving educational attainment and earning ability.”
So, if you ever needed another reason why prolonged breastfeeding (six months at a minimum and one year is better) is the best choice, now you have it. Give your baby every advantage in life by giving her breast milk for the first year!