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Breast-Fed Boys Do Better in School

breastfeeding, breast milk

Smart(er) boy!

Yet another study has concluded that breast is, in fact, best. But what’s even more interesting about this one is that breast-fed boys did even better than their non-breast-fed counterparts in school.

Girls? Not much of a difference.

The study, published in Pediatrics, found that infants who were nursed at least for six months performed better in school at age 10 than kids who were formula-fed. Academics at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, Australia, looked at the academic performance of kids whose mothers had enrolled in the study years ago. They say they adjusted for gender, income, maternal education, and things like whether the kid was read to at home.

The kids who had been breast-fed at least six months were doing better on standardized tests than the kids who had nursed for a shorter amount of time if at all. But! Though once-breastfed girls did better, it was barely better. Boys, though, showed a statistically significant difference in scores.

What’s up with that?

Wendy Oddy, one of the researchers, speculates a bit. Here’s what she thinks, according to HealthDay and other news outlets running the researchers press release:

… [T]he protective role of breast milk on the brain and its later consequences for language development may have greater benefits for boys because they are more vulnerable during critical development periods.

Or, she offers, it’s because boys are more reliant on their mothers than girls are.

A number of studies found that boys are more reliant than girls on maternal attention and encouragement for the acquisition of cognitive and language skills. If breastfeeding facilitates mother-child interactions, then we would expect the positive effects of this bond to be greater in males compared with females, as we observed.

Um, paging Cordelia Fine!

Fine wrote Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference, a smart and funny book about how science has adopted many of the assumptions that we have about gender differences (which don’t bear out in science). I think she’d Fine would probably quibble with Oddy’s speculations and see something that the report on the research misses.

I wonder if the study looked at enough kids to conclude little mama’s boys are getting the most out of their time under the shirt. I mean, of the 1,000 kids, how many of them were boys? Of those boys, how many were the breast-fed ones? What about girls? Were there enough infants overall who had been breast-fed to at least six months to really be meaningful? In the U.S., nursing kids to six months isn’t widely done (though it’s increasing). What about Australia?

I love a good breastfeeding study as much as the next former lactater. But this one, like others, makes me suspicious. The researcher reveals a bias about gender in her innocent speculation on the wacky results. What else is she hoping to find in her analysis?

If we are to conclude that boys benefit more from nursing than girls, I’d like to see this study replicated by another research team. I’d also like to know how many breast-fed boys did better — and how much better they actually did.

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