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Breastfeeding Has No Long-Term Cognitive Benefit, Study Shows

28 March 2017, 7:10 am EDT By Livia Rusu Tech Times
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5 myths about breastfeeding debunked
Researchers have concluded that while breastfeeding offers short-term benefits related to nutrition, the long-term cognitive and developmental effects are negligible. The mother and child relationship is also important, according to the research.  ( Fiona Goodall | Getty Images )

While the short-term benefits of breastfeeding are known, a new study finds that there are no long-term cognitive advantages associated with breastfeeding. The study examined children when were born full term; when they were nine months old; and were then reexamined at three and five years of age.

The research followed 7,478 Irish children and its results were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Breastfeeding Not Associated With Long-Term Benefits

At three years, the kids' parents were asked to fill out questionnaires aimed at evaluating problem-solving skills and vocabulary among the subjects. Additionally, the parents had to report parameters about behavior and cognition. Two years later, both teachers and parents were asked to go through the same procedure.

"Breastfeeding reduces all-cause and infection-related child mortality, sudden infant death syndrome related mortality, and maternal breast cancer and cardiovascular risk; the effect of breast milk is dose-dependent, with exclusivity and longer duration increasing benefits," noted the research.

Researchers found out that kids who were breastfed for at least half a year were less predisposed to being hyperactive, and they also scored higher in problem-solving assessments at the age of three. However, by the time the children turned five, these differences were negligible.

"[The study] ] fits well in the body of literature that long-term benefits of breastfeeding look a whole lot smaller or non-existent if you properly control for your confounding variables," noted Dr. Brooke Orosz, professor of mathematics at the Essex County College and adviser to the organization Fed is Best.

Orosz was not involved in the research but mentioned that while the mothers' IQ scores weren't taken into account, other indicators such as income and education level provided enough data for the study.

Initially, breastfeeding was associated with a series of long-term benefits. However, when the socio-economic data were taken into account, these differences became negligible.

It is true that kids who are breastfed have better overall outcomes. However, these outcomes are not solely associated with breastfeeding, but with the entire socio-economic context that comes with having educated and richer parents.

There are numerous cases of new mothers debating whether or not to breastfeed their children. Nancy Hurst, director of Women's Support Services at Texas Children's Hospital Pavilion for Women gives women advice about this dilemma. According to Hurst, who is also an international board certified lactation consultant, breastfeeding may be important. However, what really makes the difference in raising a child is the quality of the human contact created and sustained by a mother between her and her kid.

Breastfeeding: A Nutritious Process

Another study, published in 2016, showed that antibiotics can reduce the benefits of breastfeeding. That research was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The research showed that breast milk, unlike formula milk, transmits gut bacteria to infants from their mothers' bodies — along with specific sugar compounds that help the growth of specific gut bacteria. At the same time, mothers who use antibiotics are less capable of transmitting these beneficial bacteria to their kids' bodies.

"Early use of antibiotics unfavorably modifies intestinal microflora [gut bacteria], and this may have lifetime consequences, even in those babies who receive a long duration breastfeeding," noted Dr. Pietro Vajro, professor of pediatric gastroenterology at the University of Salerno in Italy, co-author of the study's editorial.

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