Breastfed babies not more intelligent, say experts

Women are recommended to breastfeed for the first six months. Picture: Getty
Women are recommended to breastfeed for the first six months. Picture: Getty
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BREASTFEEDING does not improve a child’s IQ compared to infants who are bottlefed, a new study has claimed.

Experts have suggested in the past that children who are breastfed enjoy improved cognitive growth due to the presence of fatty acids in breast milk which are essential for brain ­development.

But the new study from Goldsmiths University, which involved 11,000 British children, found there was no reliable link to early life intelligence and breastfeeding was also not related to IQ gains after the age of two.

Lead author Dr Sophie von Stumm reported that while girls’ IQs were a little higher than boys before the age of seven, the advantage disappeared by 16. She said: “Children – and adults – differ in their cognitive abilities, and it is important to identify factors that give rise to these ­differences.

“But comparatively small events like breastfeeding are very unlikely to be at the core of something as big and complex as children’s differences in IQ.

“Instead, children’s IQ differences are better explained by long-term factors, for example, children’s family background and their schooling.”

Data came from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) at Kings College London, where children were tested nine times on cognitive ability between 2 and 16 years, so the researchers could track their intelligence over time.

But the team, who have been working on the project for more than 19 years, discovered both groups had the same average IQ throughout the process.

Despite the results, Dr von Stumm urged mothers to remember the other benefits to breastfeeding, such as the development of the child’s auto-immune system.

Advice to nursing mothers should not change, as breastfeeding has many benefits for the health of mother and baby, said Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at The Royal College of Midwives.

Ms Fyle said: “The important issue is to ensure that women have access to skilled advice and support to help them to initiate and sustain breastfeeding for longer.”

Dr Colin Michie, chair of the Nutrition Committee at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said breastfeeding had a number of “powerful and proven” health benefits such as fewer gut, chest and ear infections and lower risks of sudden death and obesity.

The Scottish Government recommends that women breastfeed for the first six months, which is in line with guidance from the World Health Organisation.