Long-Term Benefits of Breastfeeding


long-term benefits of breastfeeding

New study finds many long-term benefits of breastfeeding. People breast fed the longest had a correlation with higher intelligence, longer education and higher earnings.

Breastfeeding have many short-term benefits since breast milk contain all the vitamins and nutrients a baby need in addition to infection defense passed down from the mother. But do breastfed children get additional long-term advantages? A new study published in The Lancet Global Health investigates how duration of breastfeeding affects IQ, income and education.

Long-Term Benefits of Breastfeeding

“The effect of breastfeeding on brain development and child intelligence is well established, but whether these effects persist into adulthood is less clear,” explains lead author Dr Bernardo Lessa Horta from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil.

The prospective study included 6000 infants born in Pelotas, Brazil in 1982. Information on breastfeeding was collected in early childhood and the children were followed for 30 years. As an adult all participants were given an IQ test and researchers also collected information on income and educational achievements.

Researchers managed to collect data on breastfeeding and IQ on about half (3493) of the 6000 infants enrolled in the study. This group was divided into five groups depending on the length of time they were breastfed as infants. To control if breastfeeding was the factor influencing IQ, researchers controlled for 10 social and biological variables that could increase IQ, including family income at birth, maternal smoking during pregnancy and delivery method.

The results showed that the long-term benefits of breastfeeding were numerous, higher IQ, longer education as well as higher income. The advantages increased with the length of time a child was breastfed, up to a maximum of 12 months. Children breastfed 12 months gained on average four IQ points, had 0.9 years longer education and 341 reais higher income at the age of 30, compared to people breastfed for less than one month.

“The likely mechanism underlying the beneficial effects of breast milk on intelligence is the presence of long-chain saturated fatty acids (DHAs) found in breast milk, which are essential for brain development. Our finding that predominant breastfeeding is positively related to IQ in adulthood also suggests that the amount of milk consumed plays a role.” Dr Horta.


Image Credit: Natalia Tjandra via flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0