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Does Breastfeeding Boost IQ?

Study Shows Breastfed Kids Score Better on Some IQ Tests
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Breastfeeding and IQ: Second Opinion

Not surprisingly, a spokesman for La Leche League International, which promotes breastfeeding, calls the new study findings "significant and valid." Not every paper or research study has found an association, says Lawrence M. Gartner, MD, a spokesman for the league and professor emeritus from the University of Chicago.

"But the huge majority of them do show a positive effect -- improvement in IQ and school performance."

"I think there is more and more evidence that points this way," says Dennis Woo, MD, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Santa Monica UCLA & Orthopaedic Hospital, who reviewed the study for WebMD. However, he wonders if cultural influences may play a role since the study was conducted in Eastern Europe, and if the same results would hold for U.S. breastfeeding mothers. Woo also works as a consultant for formula companies.

"We can't generalize [the findings] to all populations necessarily," agrees Jennifer Shu, MD, an Atlanta pediatrician and author of Heading Home with Your Newborn, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. "But there is no downside [to breastfeeding]."

A slightly different interpretation of the findings is proposed by Ruth A. Lawrence, MD, chairwoman of the academy's section on breastfeeding and a neonatologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York.  "What the study says to me is, breastfeeding does not make your child smarter, it allows your child to reach full potential. If you have a child with chromosomal abnormalities and Down syndrome, for instance, and breastfeed, you are not going to make that child a genius. You are going to allow that child to reach his full potential." 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, suggesting mothers can continue as long as it is mutually acceptable.

According to the CDC, 73.8% of U.S. mothers who gave birth in 2004 ever breastfed. Of those, 41.5% still breastfed at six months, but just 11.3% exclusively through six months. The data is in the Breastfeeding Report Card, issued in 2007.

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