study says breastfed babies are smarter
BABIES who are breastfed for four months or more perform better on intelligence tests at age 21, a study has found.
Paediatric registrar Ryan Eisemann analysed data from more than 1600 people born in the 1980s whose mothers were part of the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy.
He found an association between those who were breastfed for at least four months and improved intelligence in early adulthood, even after adjusting for birthweight, prematurity, family socio-economic status and the mother's education and IQ levels.
Dr Eisemann, based at the Mater Children's Hospital, presented the results at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' Future Directions in Health Congress in Brisbane yesterday.
Speaking outside the conference, he stressed that even though the study showed that breastfeeding a baby for longer was predictive of increased intelligence at ages 14 and 21, it was impossible to say for certain from the research whether breast milk made kids smarter.
"I think it's partly an effect of the content of breast milk, and whether that's related to the fatty acids or other bioactive compounds that have neurodevelopmental consequences," Dr Eisemann said.
"But there's also the fact that mums who breastfeed spend large amounts of time cuddling and bonding with their infant so there's the actual attachment process of the breastfeeding that has an impact.
"We know there's research emerging that having secure attachment is very important from a neurodevelopmental point of view. I think you can't really say it's one or the other.
"It's probably going to be both of those things.
"There's also always the potential that there are other things that we didn't measure that account for the effect."
Dr Eisemann said the research suggested longer duration of breastfeeding should continue to be encouraged but, ultimately, the decision was up to individual women.