The headline above is from a July 29, 2013, story that appeared on the NBC News website in the health section. The report was based on a study published on the same day in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
The NBC News article starts by stating, “Young children who were breastfed as infants scored higher on intelligence tests than formula-fed kids, and the longer and more exclusively they were breastfed, the greater the difference.” In this study 1312 expecting mothers were analyzed between 1999 and 2002. Data was collected on whether or not their babies were breast fed and for how long after birth. The children were then examined at ages 3 and 7 to determine their relative language skills and their intelligence.
The results of the study showed that longer breastfeeding duration was associated with higher vocabulary test scores at age three and higher intelligence scores at age seven. On average, babies who were exclusively breastfed during their entire first six months of life scored a 4.8 point gain in verbal IQ. Mothers who did a mix of any feeding with breast feeding during the first 12 months of their babies’ lives resulted in their children having an average 4.2 verbal IQ point increase over those who did not breastfeed.
Dr. Mandy Belfort, lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School commented in the NBC article, “As a result, we felt we were able to get a reasonable estimate of what the relationship is between the length of breastfeeding and the IQ of the child at school age.” In trying to explain what is responsible for this increase in IQ in breastfed babies, Dr. Belfort stated, “All the nutrients we know that are important for infants are also in formula, but there may be others that we don’t know about yet that are responsible.”
Pediatrician Dr. Michael Georgieff, director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota Medical School, who was not involved in the study, commented in the NBC article, “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 article reports that in the United States, 72% of mothers breastfeed their babies. This is a higher rate than in years past. According to the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card 2013, 77% of US mothers begin breastfeeding, and 49% of them continue to breast feed up to six months. This is a sharp increase from the year 2000 when only 35% of babies were breastfed by six months of age.