LONDON, England, Wednesday March 25, 2015 – When it comes to feeding infants, conventional wisdom has long held that “breast is best.” Now, following a long-term study in Brazil that suggested a link between breast feeding and intelligence, it appears that “breast is brightest” could hold equally true.
The study, which spanned three decades, traced nearly 3,500 babies, from all walks of life, and found those who had been breastfed for longer went on to perform better academically, score higher on IQ tests as adults, and go on to command higher incomes in better jobs.
Dr Bernardo Lessa Horta, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said his research offered unique insight because in the population he studied, breastfeeding was evenly distributed across social class and was not something practised only by the rich and educated.
Of the babies monitored in the study, most, irrespective of social class, were breastfed, some for less than a month and others for more than a year.
Those who were breastfed for longer completed more schooling and scored higher on measures of intelligence as adults.
They were also more likely to secure better jobs paying higher wages.
Dr Horta believes breast milk may offer an advantage because it is a good source of long-chain saturated fatty acids which are essential for brain development.
Experts nevertheless say that the study findings, published in The Lancet Global Health, cannot confirm this and that much more research is needed to explore any possible link between breastfeeding and intelligence.
They stress there are many different factors other than breastfeeding that could have an impact on intelligence, although the researchers did try to rule out the main confounders, such as birth weight and mother’s education and family income.
“There have been many studies on the link between breastfeeding and IQ over the years with many having had their validity challenged,” said Dr Colin Michie, chairman of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health‘s nutrition committee, in a BBC report.
“This study however, looks at a number of other factors including education achievement and income at age 30 which, along with the high sample size, makes this study a very powerful one.”