Breastfeeding for Brilliance – Harvard Finds

Breastfeeding for Brilliance - Harvard Studies Say
Some women opt to breastfeed longer than others, and some choose bottles right from the start.  Whether for reasons such as returning to employment or the simple convenience of having a partner help with the feedings, it seems bottle-fed babies are on the rise.  Multiple studies, however, including a prominent one at Harvard University, says the longer babies are breastfed, the greater their intelligence – that’s right breastfeeding equates with brilliance!

Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School followed well over 1000 mothers noting each additional month an infant breastfed and tracking them up through age 3 and 7.  Those who were fed straight from the mother’s milk showed, for each additional month they fed, their language skills were more advanced at 3 years old, and more intelligent at 7 years.

The researchers found that 7-year-olds whose moms had done any breastfeeding during the child’s first year – exclusively or in combination with formula – gained a little more than a third of a point in verbal IQ for each month of breastfeeding compared to children who were never breastfed. That means if the mom did any mix of breastfeeding for the entire 12 months, the gain would be 4.2 verbal IQ points.

This study really helps to support women in staying with breastfeeding longer rather than ‘getting them back to work.’  The more emphasis is placed on early development, the better off the child will be throughout their lives, and a greater contribution to the community and the world.

When the studies narrowed findings to kids who had been exclusively breastfed their first six months, and then any combination of breastfeeding up to a year -the results dramatically showed an increase in I.Q. of 4.8 points, this is significant.  Pediatrician Michael Georgieff, director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota Medical School think so:

I would take three or four IQ points any given day. It’s a pretty significant shift, especially demographically across the world if everyone were to make that gain.(the average IQ is 100, and about 67 percent of people have IQ scores somewhere between 85 and 115.)

One of the most important nutrients delivered through breast milk through month 12 is DHA, the n-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid.  This fatty acid is difficult to get, with only a few sources available and contributes largely to brain development.  For mothers to increase DHA in their breast milk, it is recommended to eat more fish and the food of fish – blue-green algae and phytoplankton.

Apparently, less than half of new mothers breastfeed for longer than 6 months, only around 23% sticking it out to a full year.  It used to be that mothers breastfed for several years, until the child walked away from the breast, or the teeth presented an issue to the provider.  Today, other factors decide how long mothers will continue to feed.

One is the simple social consideration that many are not comfortable with the presence of a nursing mother – a social phobia which definitely needs to be addressed.  The other major player, as mentioned earlier, is the ‘return to work’ factor.  Working mothers do not get a long enough leave of absence (let alone a paid-leave) in order to accommodate the lifestyle of continued exclusive breastfeeding.  Yes, there is pumping available, though it is a serious chore and takes much time away from both bonding at home and working at work.

More than 120 countries worldwide provide paid maternity leave with health benefits, excluding Australia, New Zealand and yes – you guessed it – the United States.  The countries providing the most paid maternity leave by law include: “the Czech Republic – 28 weeks; Hungary – 24 weeks; Italy – 5 months; Canada – 17 weeks; Spain and Romania – 16 weeks each. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden all provide extensive paid leave which may be taken by either parent, although a portion is reserved for the mother.”  So why is the U.S. left out of these statistics?  In 1993  the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provided working mothers in companies larger than 50 people, 12 weeks unpaid leave for women to adjust to the new lifestyle.  Wow, thanks!

Breastfeeding has been shown to boost brilliance, say the Harvard studies, so why are we not assisting the mothers in making this a plausible reality for them?   While we feel it is so important to bail out banks and fund wars in other countries, we neglect to see what our true assets are, the children growing up on our own soil.  If you are a new mother, perhaps it is cause to consider, whether breastfeeding now is worth it to your child in the long run.  Offering this loving service is one that will surely be paid back, if not from your employer, from your amazing kid as you watch them grow.


Written by: Stasia Bliss

Sources: ABC News; Bloomberg; HealthLine; NBC News; International Labor Organization