Are breastfed babies smarter?

Are breastfed babies smarter?

The medical benefits of breastfeeding – including helping newborns fight infections and strengthening infants – are well-documented. In the long-term, though, does breastfeeding help to make your baby smarter?

According to a new study published in Pediatrics, breastfeeding has little impact on long-term cognitive development and behavior.

The study followed 7,478 Irish children from the time they were 9 months old. They were then evaluated at three years and again at five years of age. The researchers found that the children who were breastfed for six months or more had lower rates of hyperactivity and improved problem-solving skills at age three. By the time they turned five, the differences were negligible.

“There is no formula that could ever mimic or compare to the benefit of breast milk,” explains Marshelle Santoro, nurse and lactation specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Santoro added that other factors play a significant part in infants’ cognitive skills.

“For example, reading to your child from the time of conception until birth plays a big role in cognitive development in children as they grow. To add colorful pictures along with ‘touchy things’ with different shapes enhances the brain’s development. Infant brains are like sponges – they absorb the most the first couple years of life.”

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  1. ““There is no formula that could ever mimic or compare to the benefit of breast milk,” explains Marshelle Santoro, nurse and lactation specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Illinois.”

    Well, maybe not, but if you’re over 30, chances are pretty damn high that you weren’t breastfed, so whatever formula you were given must have done the trick. But you know what’s really not good for babies? Starvation. Also, extreme maternal stress. Like what happens when mothers are not able to breastfeed or simply find it too cumbersome.

    Perhaps breast is best (although more and more studies are casting doubt on that, especially long term), but alive and happy are even better. Stop making mothers feel bad if the can’t or simply don’t breastfeed.

    • Fed Up over Mommy Shaming May 8, 2017 at 12:59 pm · Reply

      Wow Dienne, why so defensive? There is nothing in this article that doesn’t say fed is best. It is because of individuals like you that there is still a debate and mommy shaming over breast feeding/formula feeding. Breast milk is made for your baby, so no, formula can’t mimic it. Fact. If your body doesn’t produce enough milk or if you can’t do it, then formula is available. That is the intended use for it. Read the article as is and stop looking for an argument otherwise mommy shaming will never stop.

      Also, for the record, I am over 30 and was breastfed.

    • BabyFriendlyAintAlwaysMommyFriendly May 9, 2017 at 5:00 am · Reply

      I agree Dienne

    • Well said Dienne.

  2. I appreciate this article and the contents. I think if a mother is able to breastfeed she should. I nursed my daughter for an entire year. One of the benefits that was not mentioned was the bonding of mother and child during this process. I accepted the breastfeeding challenge and I won’t deny that it had its challenges but with good support I was able to pump while at work through the day.

    I have heard some mothers say that breastfeeding ties you down. While I can see a small point in this but during that time is when the baby needs you most. The first year should be a slow down point and bonding time.

    The mothers who aren’t or wasn’t able to produce milk shouldn’t feel bad that they wasn’t able to have this experience with their child but are still able to have the great bonding experiences. Motherhood is an experience that shouldn’t be judged at all.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms!

  3. Christine Cowen May 8, 2017 at 12:51 pm · Reply

    The only authority I have to comment about cognitive function in adults that were breastfed as babies are my own two daughters ages 39 & 35. Both were breastfed until 9 months of age. Both of them are extremely bright adults now. And, that could be that I was just a great mom!

    However, I do want to make a statement regarding your comment, Diane. “”Especially long term effects.”

    Bottle feeding infants – does press the bottle’s nipple up against the roof of their mouths and may create a higher arched hard palate. This may lessen room for teeth and tongue and narrow the airway. We see this problem at times with obstructive sleep apnea. There are children now that are going through a process that can reshape the oral cavity using surgery and oral appliance therapy to enlarge the oral cavity.

    Breast feeding infants – allows the entire breast areola in the baby’s mouth, allowing the roof of the mouth to widen naturally. This allows individuals a larger oral cavity to allow room for teeth and the tongue as well as airflow.

    So, yes in my opinion, I believe the long term results of not breastfeeding may have an impact on our children’s size of their upper airway. I believe this may impact airway in adults as well.

  4. My kids were breastfed, I was not. I understand it’s not for everyone. Dianne, you took this report as some sort of personal attack. It’s just information and that’s all.

    Let’s all be happy we are able to enjoy our kids, whether they are young or adults now, breastfed or not, and may you all have a Happy Mother’s Day!

  5. Dienne,

    I can totally relate to your emotion as I was 100% a low supply mama with my 1st. I suffered from IGT, IR, tie issues and took supplements ad nauseam and could never achieve a full supply. My son was starving because I refused to be “booby trapped.” I bought the whole idea that EVERYONE could breastfeed as I have never heard any different. With that said, there is nothing in this article that triggers me to be honest. Despite currently being able to ebf, Im super sentitive to and for low supply moms. I think you read the headline and let it get yhe best of you.

    For the record, my son was about 70% formula fed and is going on 4 and is the absolute smartest, brightest little guy. At the end of the day whether you FF or BF, rumor has it they all eventually become teenagers. 😉

  6. While I am personally a huge breastfeeding proponent and hope to be a certified peer counselor to support other mothers one day, I do think nursing is a deeply personal decision and a commitment. Regardless of that decision, two things are paramount 1) that babies receive nutrition, nurturing and love, and 2) that if a mother wants to breastfeed, but cannot personally do it, there are alternative options available like a safe, non-profit donor milk bank approved by the national Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). For Illinois and Wisconsin, there is the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes.

  7. I normally don’t like reading articles about breastfeeding because I didn’t have a good milk supply after my daughter was born and I struggled A LOT with that. When I read these kind of articles I feel somehow sad and unconfortable so I try to avoid them. We all know the benefits of breastfeeding, but there are cases where mother nature is not kind at all. I know kids who were just formula fed and they are as clever as any breastfed kid.

  8. Breastmilk/formula, natural childbirth/epidural – the list goes on. The choice is up to you. No one should judge you on the decision you make for you and your baby.

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.