Breast Milk Is Not Why Breastfed Babies Are Smarter
    By News Staff | February 26th 2014 03:23 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Numerous studies have concluded that children who were breastfed score higher on IQ tests and perform better in school.

    Why would that be? Is it the mother-baby bonding time, something in breast milk or other attributes of families that have mothers who breastfeed their babies?

    Sociologists from Brigham Young University think they have the answer and pinpoint two sources of this cognitive boost: Responding to children's emotional cues and reading to children starting at 9 months of age. Breastfeeding mothers tend to do both of those things, said lead author Ben Gibbs. 

    So it's not the milk, it's the parenting, Gibbs says. "Breastfeeding matters in others ways, but this actually gives us a better mechanism and can shape our confidence about interventions that promote school readiness."

    According to the analysis by Gibbs and fellow BYU professor Renata Forste in the Journal of Pediatrics, improvements in sensitivity to emotional cues and time reading to children could yield 2-3 months' worth of brain development by age 4, as measured by math and reading readiness assessments.

    "Because these are four-year-olds, a month or two represents a non-trivial chunk of time," Gibbs said. "And if a child is on the edge of needing special education, even a small boost across some eligibility line could shape a child's educational trajectory."

    They utilized a national data set that followed 7,500 mothers and their children from birth to five years of age. The data set is rich with information on the home environment, including how early and how often parents read to their kids. Additionally, each of the mothers in the study also participated in video-taped activities with their children. As the child tried to complete a challenging task, the mother's supportiveness and sensitivity to their child's emotional cues were measured.

    The scholars note that the most at-risk children are also the least likely to receive the optimal parenting in early childhood. Single moms in the labor force, for example, don't have the same luxuries when it comes to breastfeeding and quality time with the children. Parents with less education don't necessarily hear about research-based parenting practices, either.

    "This is the luxury of the advantaged," Forste said in their statement. "It makes it harder to think about how we promote environments for disadvantaged homes. These things can be learned and they really matter. And being sensitive to kids and reading to kids doesn't have to be done just by the mother."


    Greg M.
    Question: Why reading? Can it be idle conversation or a discussion of literary theory instead? How about spending time discussing paintings, or painting together? Is this acceptable parenting? I feel so much guilt, guilt, GUILT. Please, I'm just looking for answers. Anyone? Bueller?
    Begin with this assumption: it's all a joke. Then you will see the humour in everything.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    There are so many variables involved here that it seems unscientific that these scholars are making such blanket, sweeping claims about why breast fed babies on average score higher on IQ tests and do better at school. These claims and deductions have been made from data correlations taken from a sample of 7,500 mothers with children up to the age of 5 years of age but there are plenty of other correlations in the same data that may represent other potentially causative factors that shouldn't be ruled out.

    Good scientists know that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, to claim that these 2 parenting factors 'caused' the increase in IQ and school performance is quite outrageous, where is the proof? For example another study by the same University called 'Overeating learned in infancy' taken from the same data sample of 7,500 mothers and babies only 'suggests' that 'encouraging a baby to finish the last ounce in their bottle might be doing more harm than good'  :-
     The BYU researchers analyzed data from more than 8,000 families and found that babies predominantly fed formula were 2.5 times more likely to become obese toddlers than babies who were breastfed for the first six months' and 'Breastfeeding rates are lowest in poor and less educated families. Sally Findley, a public health professor at Columbia University, says the new BYU study shows that infant feeding practices are the primary reason that childhood obesity hits hardest below the poverty line.'
    These obese toddlers and children from the same data pool of 7,500 mothers and children are assumed to be obese because they were bottle fed formula and made to finish every drop in their bottles and then were often weaned from bottled formula milk earlier than breast fed babies and fed more sugar laden formula and food in general and earlier. 

    Obese children have been repeatedly found to not perform as well at school as children that are not obese. These factors may be irrelevant to how good the parenting skills of the mothers of these formula fed, obese children were regarding their responses to their children's emotional cues and whether they were reading to them or not. 

    It is equally possible to deduce from this second study that instead of being made to finish the bottle it was the contents of the bottle that 'caused' the children to be more likely to be obese and/or perform less well at school. This implies that there could still be significant nutritional differences between bottle formula and breast milk that is affecting children's subsequent IQs and school performance.

    Also, the reading ability of a five year old is not the only measure of his or her IQ. Most Rudolph Steiner school children for example are deliberately not taught to read until they are seven years old, does that mean that they all have low IQs when they are five years old regardless of whether they were breast fed or formula fed by parents with good or bad parenting skills because they still can't read themselves?

    I also question the relevance of the following claim from the same breast milk versus formula feeding parenting skills comparison study “Breastfeeding, Parenting and Early Cognitive Development” :-
    'Single moms in the labor force, for example, don’t have the same luxuries when it comes to breastfeeding and quality time with the children. Parents with less education don’t necessarily hear about research-based parenting practices, either.“ This is the luxury of the advantaged,” Forste said. “It makes it harder to think about how we promote environments for disadvantaged homes. These things can be learned and they really matter. And being sensitive to kids and reading to kids doesn’t have to be done just by the mother.”
    There are many single and non-single mothers in the work force who breast feed their babies and leave bottles of breast milk to be fed to their babies in their absence. I did this with my babies when I worked. Most carers are probably trying to get these babies to finish their bottles in their working mother's absence regardless of whether it was breast milk or formula provided in the babies bottles.

    Finally, this article at one of Australia's leading parenting social network websites called 'Baby Formula: What Baby Formula Makers Wont Tell You' provides plenty of reasons why baby formula may potentially be less nutritious and healthy than breast milk. However it should also be noted that breast milk is also potentially capable of containing and transmitting toxins if the mother's water, diet and/or health status is also compromised in some way. 

    Not all breast milk or formula are equally nutritious and good for babies and their development and this may be another factor that could be correlated with their subsequent IQs, school performance, obesity and health. There need to be more studies done and less outrageous blanket causative claims about good or bad parenting skills made from unproven data correlations in only one large sample because our babies are so precious and they are our future.
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