Does Breastfeeding Boost Brain Development?
Breastfeeding has numerous benefits—and here is another! A study from 2016 concludes that breastfeeding is connected to higher IQ and grey matter in children. However, the reality may not be so simple: is this too good to be true? Let’s dive into the details.
The study tracked data from 148 children from around 3-5 years old, till the ages of 9-14 (for a total of 11 years), while also weighing other variables such as gender and mental history. The study also took into account the education level of the mothers, their income level, and family size. Impressively, regardless of their background, the study found that children who were breastfed had comparatively greater amounts of gray matter in their brains and higher IQ scores.
Why is gray matter so important? It’s essential to development! Gray matter in the brain is involved in functions such as seeing and hearing, motor skills, speech, memory, and emotions—it’s found all over the brain. Gray matter is also linked to higher IQ, which can be important for development: higher IQ is associated with mental and physical health benefits, as well as longevity.
The results were compelling enough that the study called for even greater public support of breastfeeding, citing potential benefits that could be critical for both the overall health of the child, and to prevent developmental disorders. At such a young age, diet and emotional bonding can be crucial factors for mental development.
This supports the plethora of continued research that breastfed children are protected from a variety of illnesses, and can relieve stress and anxiety. Nevertheless, the conclusions of one study are not a guarantee of the brain-boosting benefits of breastfeeding! The authors themselves note that while the connections are promising, this is a topic that deserves far more research. With just a little digging, you can unearth some more recent discussions on this topic.
You can turn to a 2017 NPR article, which cites a study from Ireland that followed the development of 8,000 children after breastfeeding—they found that any statistical boosts in test scores were diminished once they controlled for socio-economic factors. Although they still noted small benefits, they weren’t big enough to prove breastfeeding was the cause.
In the same vein, a New York Times article cites a 2018 study which discovered that despite the benefits breastfeeding may afford to children in their early years, other environmental factors will outweigh these effects by the time they reach adolescence. These include parenting, schooling, and other resources. However, it’s true that the study did note a slight boost to verbal ability. even in adolescence—it’s possible that breast milk had an effect, no matter how small.
Contradicting evidence, conflicting views, and parental pressure can be dizzying for a young mother, and it’s often unclear whether you’re doing everything right. Just as these later studies suggest, your own unique circumstances have the most impact on raising a child: in the end, you know what’s best. That’s why Lactation Lab aims to give mothers a more personal look into their options: by using breast milk analysis, you can make the best informed decision for yourself.