Breastfeeding makes kids smarter

Children who are breastfed score higher on IQ tests, as well as on teacher ratings of their academic performance, according to the findings of a new study.

Children who were breast-fed scored 7.5 points higher on verbal-intelligence tests, 2.9 points higher on non-verbal intelligence tests and 5.9 points higher on overall intelligence tests.

"Our results, based on the largest randomized trial ever conducted in the area of human lactation, strongly suggest that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improves cognitive development as measured by IQ and teachers' academic ratings at age 6.5 years," the authors conclude in their study.

A team of international researchers, led by Dr. Michael Kramer of McGill University, evaluated data from 14,000 children born at 31 Belarusian hospitals. Half of the babies' mothers were encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for as long as possible. The other half had standard in-hospital maternity care and outpatient follow-up without the breastfeeding intervention

After the children turned six, their pediatricians administered IQ tests and their teachers evaluated their academic accomplishments in reading, writing, math and other subjects.

The findings support previous observational studies that have found breast-fed babies to be smarter than their formula-fed counterparts.

"The consistency of our findings based on a randomized trial with those reported in previous observational studies should prove helpful in encouraging further public health efforts to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding," the authors wrote.

However, is not yet clear if the breast milk itself influences the cognitive development of babies. The researchers acknowledge that the physical and emotional actions associated with breastfeeding could have an impact on how the brain develops.

The research was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.