Breastfeeding And The Link To Intelligence

It’s been all over the headlines this week that recent research has suggested there is a link between breastfeeding babies and their IQ later in life.  The study also suggests that breastfed babies may have a higher earning potential and study for longer. These are interesting facts, that clearly cannot be ignored.

I have watched bloggers in their droves take to their posts proclaiming that they had formula and they are OK, lets not pressure Mother’s any further into thinking breast is best.  I urge you all to stop for a minute, and think about the research and how important reporting a story like this is.

As a news article, was this in the public interest to share.  Of course it was.  This is one of the most significant studies to date, researching 3,500 subjects across various social and cultural backgrounds.  Further research is needed, but you cannot deny the results are important.

Breastfeeding

I was FF as a child, and I’d consider myself to have a reasonable IQ.  My son was breastfed and he has an exceptionally high IQ, higher than I did when I was his age.  Is my small study of 2 credible?  Of course it isn’t, but when you carry out a detailed program of research that suggests by the age of 30 you will be a higher earner if you were breastfed then you have to give it some weight.

Why is research of this nature carried out?  Similar studies take place all over the world, including here in the UK.  One of the reasons is to understand the outcomes for children, and often Mother’s too and sometimes other groups like employers or health services.  Understanding the positive outcomes that can be achieved for these and other groups will help inform several government policies around the globe.

Where findings like this are so significant, it may also encourage current or future governments to increase funding to support Mother’s to breastfeed, and introduce other incentives and campaigns to combat the negative attitudes that still exist towards breastfeeding in this and many other countries.

Studies of this nature help inform policies that will raise awareness for generations to come so that we do not repeat the formula generation that was created in the 50’s and are infact still trying to undo.

I am certainly not surprised by the findings of the research, as breastmilk is designed to fuel a growing babies developmental needs in a way that formula milk simply cannot reproduce.  That is a fact, and we cannot dress that up or skirt over the fact.

Do I think that support is needed to encourage Mother’s to try breastfeeding, and maintain it?  Yes, without a doubt.  Do I understand that sometimes it simply isn’t the right thing to do to breastfeed if Mother’s or baby’s health is going to be adversely affected.  Of course!

Should those Mother’s be free from guilt when making when they have had to make an incredibly difficult decision, yes!  Unfortunately, they will never be unless they set their own boundaries.  Part of becoming a Mother is about wrestling with an element of guilt.  It drives us to be the best possible parent we can be.

I hope this research is used by the UK government to understand the importance of supporting breastfeeding effectively.  I suspect that if there are credible links between breastfeeding and a positive impact on the economy, then some things might start to change.  New Mother’s who are struggling with breastfeeding need more help, and they might not fall into a high risk group or live in a deprived area.  Being a new Mum can be a challenge for anyone, and breastfeeding a newborn is not as easy as it looks!

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17 Comments

  1. March 20, 2015 / 9:20 am

    I found the research quite interesting. I’ve never read about a study on such a huge scale before. I like that you’ve written a positive post about it as I’ve only seen negative. I also really like how you said yourself that your study of two isn’t credible xx
    Catriona Stephen recently posted…Living Arrows 11/52My Profile

  2. March 20, 2015 / 10:02 am

    Well said. It’s easy for us as bloggers to take the path of last resistance sometimes and say the research is nonsense. But I breastfeed because it’s best for my babies. I’ve also made the choice not to use a pushchair because I don’t agree with them. I’m not going to force my views on anyone else but I’m always pleased to see research that indicates that the choices I’m making aren’t all bad.x
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  3. March 20, 2015 / 10:08 am

    Great post! I feel terribly sorry for any new mother out there are the moment struggling with the whole feeding thing and then hearing this! As a mother we have to make the best decision about things at the time. Sometime (more often than not) we look back and wish we had made a different decision. I couldn’t agree more with you that more support is required. A friend of mine is really struggling at the moment and is very depressed because of the situation…but the support she is getting is practically non existent. Telling a second time around mum to stay at home all day and feed on demand is neither practical or helpful!! One other important thing that should be considered here is the impact of probiotics (or good bacteria). Is it the breast milk per say or the fact that the baby is getting a good mix of essential probiotics from the milk (that they will not get from formula)? There are a lot of studies now linking unbalanced gut flora with all kinds of illnesses including mental illnesses. My suggestion is that if you choose formula introduce a really good quality probiotic too. Perhaps you child will end up just as intelligent and in an even better job…and you as the mother don’t have to be depressed about not feeding your baby!!!
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  4. March 20, 2015 / 10:29 am

    I can’t stand the pressure that is put on new mums to breastfeed. I know of people that really had a hard time from various professionals over breastfeeding. I did breastfeed both of my babies for 8 months. I loved it. I loved how close it made me feel to them but also, I was only able to do it because both of them latched on properly. I certainly wouldn’t have given myself a hard time if they or I couldn’t have done it. Mothers know best! xx #binkylinky
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  5. March 20, 2015 / 10:43 am

    Personally I am not sure how I feel about studies like these. Although I breastfed my son and I know breastmilk is designed for babies, I can’t call these studies reliable because every baby is different, you cannot recreate the exact same baby and put them in different socio-economic conditions. We know, for example, that those from poorer backgrounds have fewer chances and are less likely to be breastfed. Is that because of the circumstances in which they were brought up or because they weren’t breastfed? Certainly it makes for interesting reading though.
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  6. March 20, 2015 / 11:31 am

    It´s so important to support breastfeeding… and I am not sure how much more research is necessary for the great public to understand the clear benefits that breastfeeding can have on babies. I don´t see it as pressure on mums, that surely is not caused by research, but by peers, family, friends. I don´t believe in pushing my views on other mothers, if you need/choose to formula feed thats your choice/right. But formula feeding is splashed on tv adverts, in you supermarket halls, and when you see a mother breasftfeeding chances are that the mother might be shamed. So we need to further educate the public. So academia, keep researching…
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  7. March 20, 2015 / 11:36 am

    I agree that studies like this are actually worthwhile. However, I fall into the other camp. I couldn’t breast feed, I had no milk for the first 2. When I had my 3rd I could, and did, breastfeed. It didn’t last, it was incredibly painful, and I didn’t produce enough to sustain him, so it only lasted around 10 days. I may actually write my own post, from the other point of view, if I do, would it be ok to link this in? I think it would give a very balanced view xx
    #pocolo
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  8. March 20, 2015 / 3:08 pm

    Agreed. Great post. All I have read since the post have been almost attacks against it. Nice to see a refreshing change.

  9. March 20, 2015 / 3:42 pm

    I saw all the news articles about this report as it hit Facebook with a lot of people, sadly, commenting that they felt this study made them feel guilty about bottle feeding. It is sad that something like this can make so many people feel guilty, and highlight that some many people carry this guilt around with them.
    I breastfed Boo because I wanted to and although we have had bumps in the road we are still going at 15 months.
    I think this is part of a bigger issue of parents feeling judged no matter what that do, I have felt judged for breastfeeding Boo, stares, negativity – I have even been told I should stop already!
    Back to the study though, I think it is really interesting and it would be even more interesting to see an even bigger study done.
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  10. March 20, 2015 / 6:43 pm

    I personally was able to breastfeed my son until almost 15 months. I was fortunate that I didn’t have any major issues and I stayed home with my son. I do feel for moms that have a difficult time or go back to work and struggle to continue to breastfeed. I know something coming out like this (and the fact that it’s everywhere on social media) would probably make me feel bad.

    I do hope that (in the US) this may help encourage better maternity leave laws. Breastfeeding is really tough in the beginning. I know I would have had a really difficult time keeping it up if I had to pump. Maybe if we had better maternity leave laws, more women could have more opportunity to breastfeed for longer.
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  11. March 20, 2015 / 8:37 pm

    I’m afraid I disagree. I think this was so widely reported by the media because they know it’s a topic that every mum will read. They know it will bring in website hits and sell papers. After failing to exclusively feed both of my sons for longer than two weeks, I feel incredibly guilty and this research only makes me feel worse and that more mothers will judge me. But when I think about it rationally, I realise that it’s BS. The only way research like this works is if you can make sure that breastfeeding was the only difference in how a child was raised…they ignore that the types of families who are more likely to exclusively breastfeed are those who are more likely to provide healthier and more nutritious food to their children, play with them in an educational manner, talk to them consistently and encourage them at school. I also think that the balance has gone the other way now… there is soooooooo much breastfeeding support and encouragement out there and none for formula feeding. My health visitor isn’t even allowed to call a formula company to ask their advice if a baby has bad reflux for example. If the breastfeeding brigade were slightly less heavy handed, then i actually think there wouldn’t be any stigma about breastfeeding at all. It would be a non issue and would probably make more women try it. I know of mothers who have said that they were too scared to try to BF because they thought that if they failed then the BF army would come down on them saying you should have done this or that, or gone to this group or that group (which is what happened to me and made me feel worse). They said they would rather just say they chose not to out of personal preference because that was less likely to receive backlash.

    I also ask this.. is breast best if a mother has a terrible diet and is known to drink or smoke?

    • Zena
      March 22, 2015 / 10:10 pm

      I’m sorry for your experiences, but I disagree with some of your points. There definitely isn’t enough support for breastfeeding. I think the policies are not to encourage formula feeding but it doesn’t mean there is enough support for women who try BF and struggle when their nipples are cracked and bleeding because of bad positioning. I don’t think that we can make any assumptions about the women who breastfed their babies in the study as it took place in another country whose attitudes to breastfeeding are very different to the UK. The study did take into account social differences. Whether breast is best in the situation you describe, I’m not sure. The pregnancy would have been at risk also. I have read research that suggests it is still better for a mother to breastfeed a baby who smokes. Breastmilk will always take the nutrients it needs for the baby, regardless of diet.

    • May 14, 2015 / 7:56 pm

      Hi, I’ve just stumbled upon this so post and felt the need to correct some of this info for the purpose of any other new mum stumbling across it.

      Breastfeeding is certainly still completely normal and beneficial regardless of a mothers diet or if she smokes. Smoking is not recommended regardless of feeding method, but breastmilk from a breastfeeding mom is more beneficial than formula milk according to research.

      Breast milk has sustained the population since the beginning of time. It does not need to prove itself. It is up to the manufacturers of breast milk substitutes to prove that they can provide a substance that is of similar nutritional value to breast milk, since breast milk is the biological norm. After all, we wouldn’t judge our hearts ability to pump oxygen against an artificial hospital machine, or the ability of our legs to walk against an artificial leg would we?

      We cannot censor research for anybodies benefit, that would be an abhorrent withholding of information for any new mother/mother to be in the position of making that choice. Informed choice is the least we can offer a mother in making her choice isn’t it?

      • Zena
        May 14, 2015 / 8:00 pm

        Thanks for your comment, I’m not sure it’s a correction of the post but I value you adding to the debate

  12. March 21, 2015 / 8:29 pm

    Ideally, everyone should breastfeed. But life is untidy rather than ideal. I formula fed for reasons similar to Ojo. Some of the other mother’s in the various groups I went to were pretty judgemental. Stories like this, in the wrong hands, heap yet more guilt on mothers who, for whatever reason, can’t breast feed. I liked your post as you snagged the difficult trick of promoting breast feeding without shaming those who’d made other choices. #brilliantblog posts
    Mrs Tubbs recently posted…Chocolate. Proof that God May be Out ThereMy Profile

  13. March 22, 2015 / 5:36 pm

    I’m not sure how much credibility is behind studies like these. Obviously breast milk isn’t the only factor in an individuals success. You have to take into consideration their upbringing, family life and so many other factors, I’m not sure this that accurate. My children had my breast milk through a tube and then in bottles as they got older, but by the time they came out of hospital they were completely FF. They were premature so were too small to BF, even though I did try. Well written post though. Thanks for linking up to the #BinkyLinky
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  14. March 25, 2015 / 11:55 am

    Really good post!! 🙂
    It’s such an important topic! Though I already knew this as the study isn’t new, but it’s very important to share! 🙂
    ERFmama recently posted…Extended Rear Facing Car Seats & PricesMy Profile

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