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Study: Parents’ educational and income levels (not breastfeeding per se) account for the brain development gains in breastfed children

Study shows no long-term cog­ni­tive ben­e­fit to breast­feed­ing (CNN):

While the med­ical ben­e­fits of breast­feed­ing for help­ing new­borns fight infec­tions and help­ing pre-term infants get stronger are fair­ly well estab­lished, the long-term impact is much less so…a new study pub­lished in the jour­nal Pedi­atrics finds that breast­feed­ing has lit­tle impact on long-term cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment and behav­ior.

While the researchers found that those chil­dren who were breast­fed for six months or more had low­er rates of hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty and improved prob­lem-solv­ing skills at three, those dif­fer­ences were neg­li­gi­ble by the time the child turned five…Like many oth­er breast­feed­ing stud­ies, long-term ben­e­fits have been asso­ci­at­ed with breast­feed­ing, but once socio-eco­nom­ic fac­tors such as edu­ca­tion and income are account­ed for, the dif­fer­ences between those chil­dren who were breast­fed and those who weren’t are neg­li­gi­ble.

The easy ques­tion — do kids who are breast­fed have bet­ter out­comes? The answer is yes. The dif­fi­cult ques­tion is: is it breast milk that improves their brain or is it that grow­ing up with par­ents who are bet­ter edu­cat­ed and have bet­ter incomes makes a dif­fer­ence?”

The Study:

Breast­feed­ing, Cog­ni­tive and Noncog­ni­tive Devel­op­ment in Ear­ly Child­hood: A Pop­u­la­tion Study (Pedi­atrics). From the abstract:

  • BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: There is mixed evi­dence from cor­re­la­tion­al stud­ies that breast­feed­ing impacts children’s devel­op­ment. Propen­si­ty score match­ing with large sam­ples can be an effec­tive tool to remove poten­tial bias from observed con­founders in cor­re­la­tion­al stud­ies. The aim of this study was to inves­ti­gate the impact of breast­feed­ing on children’s cog­ni­tive and noncog­ni­tive devel­op­ment at 3 and 5 years of age.
  • METHODS: Par­tic­i­pants includ­ed ?8000 fam­i­lies from the Grow­ing Up in Ire­land lon­gi­tu­di­nal infant cohort, who were iden­ti­fied from the Child Ben­e­fit Reg­is­ter and ran­dom­ly select­ed to par­tic­i­pate. Par­ent and teacher reports and stan­dard­ized assess­ments were used to col­lect infor­ma­tion on children’s prob­lem behav­iors, expres­sive vocab­u­lary, and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties at age 3 and 5 years. Breast­feed­ing infor­ma­tion was col­lect­ed via mater­nal report. Propen­si­ty score match­ing was used to com­pare the aver­age treat­ment effects on those who were breast­fed.
  • RESULTS: Before match­ing, breast­feed­ing was asso­ci­at­ed with bet­ter devel­op­ment on almost every out­come. After match­ing and adjust­ment for mul­ti­ple test­ing, only 1 of the 13 out­comes remained sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant: children’s hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty (dif­fer­ence score, –0.84; 95% con­fi­dence inter­val, –1.33 to –0.35) at age 3 years for chil­dren who were breast­fed for at least 6 months. No sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences were observed post­match­ing on any out­come at age 5 years.
  • CONCLUSIONS: Although 1 pos­i­tive ben­e­fit of breast­feed­ing was found by using propen­si­ty score match­ing, the effect size was mod­est in prac­ti­cal terms. No sup­port was found for sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant gains at age 5 years, sug­gest­ing that the ear­li­er observed ben­e­fit from breast­feed­ing may not be main­tained once chil­dren enter school.

To learn more about lifelong brain development:

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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