By: Laurie Edwards for Uterus1
For many women, the question of whether to breast-feed their baby or use formula is a tough one. From disease prevention later in life to losing weight more quickly, it seems like there is always more “proof” that breast-feeding is better for baby and mother alike.
|Thinking about breast-feeding? If so, you may want to consider the following health benefits for you and your baby:|
Breast-feeding has been shown to lower an infant’s risk of infection. It is also believed to help protect children against allergies, asthma, diabetes and obesity later in life.
Previous studies have shown that when babies are breast-fed for the first six months of life, they grow healthily and don’t gain too much weight.
For mothers, breast-feeding may make it easier to lose the extra pounds of pregnancy since nursing burns calories. Lactation also stimulates the uterus to contract back to its original size.
As another benefit, the nursing mother is forced to get needed rest. She must sit down, put her feet up and relax every few hours to nurse.
But there may be one less piece of evidence to use in the debate: the latest research shows no direct link between breast-feeding and higher intelligence later in life. In fact, experts now feel the key to understanding a child’s intelligence is the intelligence of the mother – not whether the baby was bottle-fed or breast-fed.
“Breast-feeding has little or no effect on intelligence in children,” Geoff Der of Britain’s Medical Research Council said in a recent online report published by the British Medical Journal. In the largest study ever designed to examine this issue, scientists from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh analyzed data on 5,475 children and 3,161 women in the United States.
Their conclusion? When potential contributors were considered – such as the mother’s IQ and the educational and economic status of the parents – breast-feeding made less than half a point of difference in children’s scores.
In other words, children who were breast-fed scored higher on IQ tests because their mothers tended to be more intelligent and better educated. Because those factors are associated with higher economic status, these mothers also provided a home environment that was more stimulating to babies.
Researchers have studied the possible link between breast-feeding and intelligence for years, and although some link was established between the two almost 80 years ago, research since then has been less convincing. “Although the majority of studies concluded that breast-feeding promotes intelligence, the evidence from higher quality studies is less persuasive,” wrote Dr. Anjali Jain and colleagues in a 2002 issue of Pediatrics.
Der and his team combined their own research with results from other studies that did consider maternal IQ, and once again they found scant evidence of a link between breast-feeding and intelligence. These results suggest the question: how did belief in the link between breast-feeding and baby intelligence perpetuate for so long? Most studies did not take maternal intelligence into account and thus, the effect of breast-feeding appeared doubled..
Der’s team also looked at sibling pairs in which one child was breast-fed and the other was not; no significant difference between the siblings in terms of intelligence was found. “The ones that were breast-fed should have been more intelligent,” but this was not the case.
The study authors caution that this information shouldn’t deter women from choosing to breast-feed. Rather, the decision to breast-feed should not be based on the idea that it will make their children smarter. Instead, mothers should do so because it remains “an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants.”