New research suggests that babies, especially boys, who are
breastfed for at least six months may have higher academic test
scores down the road.
A study, released
Monday, of more than 2,000 10-year-olds found boys who were mainly
breastfed had higher math and reading scores than those who were
not. There was a small but not statistically significant edge in
girls' reading scores. The research appears in the journal
The study is the
boost for breastfeeding advocates. Among them are the American
Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's leading pediatricians group,
which recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least six
known to lower babies' risks of stomach viruses, respiratory
problems, ear infections and other illnesses by providing certain
protective and immune-boosting factors.
Rao, a physician at Northwestern Memorial
Hospital, called it a "'grain-of-salt' study."
"[The results] are
encouraging and go in line with everything else we already know
about breastfeeding, in that it's good for kids," she says. "But
there are a lot of medical or social reasons that some women cannot
[breastfeed], and I would hate to make those women feel
unnecessarily guilt about their situation.
encourage and support [exclusive breastfeeding], but we should also
support women in those situations where it's just not
The first six
months are busy ones in babies' brains, as neurons develop the
coatings that help them interact and transmit information. Those
coatings, called myelin sheaths, are made of fatty acids - just
like the ones breast milk is loaded with.
socioeconomic factors play a role in kids' test scores as well.
Looking at books or being read to between the ages of 3 and 5
increased kids' scores, while kids who grew up in poorer homes, or
who were raised by mothers with only a high-school diploma or less,
had lower scores.
But among women who
cannot or choose not to breastfeed, other factors might be at work,
Rao says. For example, single women or women in unstable
relationships, or women who must return to work soon after delivery
breastfeed at lower rates, and it's not hard to see how those
factors might translate into academic struggles for their kids.
She says she tells
her patients to "do the best they can for as long as they can. If
they have to supplement every day of their baby's life, that's OK.
If they can exclusively breastfeed for 6 months or longer, thats
development is a multi-factoral process and as long as they are
attentive to their child and encouraging their child to grow, I
think that can overcome the lack of exclusive breastfeeding."
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