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Breast-Fed Baby May Become Higher-IQ Child, Study Suggests

Benefits for children seen at 3 years, 7 years
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Denise Mann

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 29 (HealthDay News) -- Mothers can add higher child IQ to the list of benefits associated with breast-feeding: New research shows that the longer a new mom breast-feeds up to one year, the greater the benefit on her baby's intelligence.

Babies who were breast-fed for the first year of life gained 4 points on their IQ, compared with babies who were not breast-fed for as long, according to the findings, published online July 29 in JAMA Pediatrics. These children were better able to understand what others were telling them (receptive language) at 3 years and had higher verbal and nonverbal intelligence at 7 years.

"These findings support national and international recommendations to promote exclusive breast-feeding through age 6 months and continuation of breast-feeding through at least age 1 year," the study authors concluded.

For the study, researchers led by Dr. Mandy Belfort, of Boston Children's Hospital, followed more than 1,300 mothers and their children. Moms were asked about breast-feeding at 6 and 12 months. Children completed standard intelligence tests at age 3 years and 7 years. Breast-fed babies scored higher on these tests even when researchers controlled for other factors that may affect a child's IQ such as the mom's intelligence.

Belfort's team also looked at whether fish intake while breast-feeding had any bearing on childhood intelligence, but it did not seem to have a major effect. Some research had suggested that omega-3 fatty acids in fish may be important for infant brain development.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at the Seattle Children's Hospital, said the new findings may motivate more women to breast-feed for longer periods of time. "There are some benefits of breast-feeding that have been very clearly shown," he said. These include reduced risk of diarrhea, ear infections and eczema, a skin condition.

"The issue of the link between breast-feeding and intelligence has been hotly debated for a long time, and the promise of cognitive ability, educational achievement and what it may lead to may encourage more women to breast-feed," he said.

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