Over the years, various studies have demonstrated the many advantages of breastfeeding, findings that have led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that all mothers breastfeed their children for the first year of the child’s life. Several studies have also examined the relationship between breastfeeding and intellectual development in younger children and have demonstrated better cognitive functioning in children who were breastfed. The extent to which breastfeeding during infancy has an effect on later intellectual development has been more difficult to assess.
Using data from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study, the cognitive abilities of 7,478 children were assessed at ages three and five. After accounting for potential confounding variables, such as parents’ education and income, there was no evidence indicating that children who had been breastfed as babies experienced cognitive benefits over babies who hadn’t.
Women feel a tremendous amount of pressure to breastfeed, fearing that not doing so will put their children at risk in some way. Helping new mothers to achieve success in this important aspect of mothering is clearly an essential part of postpartum care; far too often, however, women feel ashamed and inadequate as mothers when they cannot (or choose not to) breastfeed. This study indicates that babies who are not breastfed do as well as breastfed babies in terms of intellectual development. With this information, it may be easier to support women who are having significant or unresolvable difficulties with breastfeeding and to help them more feel comfortable with their decisions around breastfeeding when things are not going as planned.
Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
Girard LC, Doyle O, Tremblay RE. Breastfeeding, Cognitive and Noncognitive Development in Early Childhood: A Population Study. Pediatrics. 2017 Mar 27.