Babies who are breastfed for longer are better thinkers as teenagers, research suggests

Babies who are breastfed for longer are better thinkers as teenagers, research suggests.

A study of more than 7,800 British children looked at those who had their mother’s milk for less than two months, two to four months, four to six months or over a year.

Researchers found those breastfed the longest, above the age of one, did best in vocabulary tests at age 14 compared to children who were not breastfed.

The study, by experts from Oxford University, said the differences in scores were equivalent to three IQ points.

Meanwhile children breastfed for four to six months did the best in a test of memory, reasoning and spatial awareness, compared to children who were never breastfed, at the ages of seven and 11.

Breastfeeding was linked to a ‘modest’ increase in children’s intelligence even when their mother’s intelligence and their socioeconomic circumstances were taken into account.

The World Health Organization advises mothers to exclusively breastfeed their baby for at least six months.

But only about 48 per cent of British and 52 per cent of American mothers breastfeed for this length of time.

Breast milk contains polyunsaturated fatty acids and nutrients like iron which help children’s brains develop.

Experts say it also causes children to have fewer infections and illnesses, which may aid their intelligence because they have fewer days off school.

Researchers looked at the link between breastfeeding duration and thinking skills in children from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, who were recruited as babies between 2000 and 2002 and given cognitive tests aged five, seven, 11 and 14.

Among those in the study, around a third of the children had never been breastfed, but 23 per cent had been breastfed for at least six months.

The strongest link between breastfeeding and vocabulary skills was seen in children aged 14, who were given a list of 20 words, ranging from ‘unique’ to ‘pusillanimous’ and asked to select the word with the most similar meaning from a list.

The 14-year-olds breastfed for at least 12 months had the test result almost three IQ points higher than teenagers of the same age who were never breastfed.

Children’s understanding of words in simpler tests was also better, compared to children who were never breastfed, for seven and 11-year-olds who were breastfed for four months or more.

Duration of breastfeeding was not linked to vocabulary at the age of five.

The researchers set out to ensure the results were not driven by mothers’ intelligence, assessed using a vocabulary test, and children’s socioeconomic status, judged based on their parents’ occupations and mother’s level of education.

Children with more educated mothers, and those from wealthier families, tend to be breastfed for longer and may also benefit from tutoring, extra help with homework or trips to zoos, museums and galleries.

Babies who are breastfed for longer are better thinkers as teenagers, research suggests

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