Prolonged breastfeeding is associated with better cognitive performance in childhood

C. G.

Updated:26/05/2022 03:14h

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babies that are breastfed longer have better cognitive outcomes between ages 5 and 14, even after adjusting for factors that may influence good scores such as socioeconomic position and maternal cognitive ability, according to a new study from the University of Oxford, UK, published this week in the journal ‘ PLOS ONE’.

Previous studies have already found an association between breastfeeding and standardized intelligence test scores. However, it is not clear whether this is a causal relationship or could be explained by other characteristics, such as the socioeconomic status and intelligence of the women who breastfeed their babies.

In this new research, the authors analyzed data from 7,855 babies born between 2000 and 2002 who were followed up to age 14 as part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study.

The cohort was not specifically designed to address the association between breastfeeding and cognitionbut included the collection of information on the duration of any breastfeeding, duration of exclusive breastfeeding, scores on verbal cognitive tests at ages 5, 7, 11, and 14 years, and on spatial cognitive tests at ages 5, 7 and 11, as well as potential confounders, including socioeconomic characteristics and maternal cognition based on a vocabulary test.

The associations, before adjustments, found that the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the higher the scores of verbal and spatial cognitive tests at all ages up to 14 and 11 years, respectively. After accounting for differences in socioeconomic position and maternal cognitive ability, children who were breastfed longer had higher scores on cognitive measures up to age 14 years, compared with children who were not breastfed.

“There is some debate about whether breastfeeding a baby for a longer period of time improves their cognitive development. In the UK, women who are more educated and more economically advantaged tend to breastfeed longer. Additionally, this group tends to score higher on cognitive tests. These differences could explain why babies who are breastfed longer do better on cognitive tests. However, in our study, we found that even after accounting for these differences, children who were breastfed longer performed better on cognitive measures up to age 14 years, compared with children who were not breastfed. This difference may seem small for a particular child, but could be important at the population level», the authors conclude.

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