New Study Claims the Long-Term Cognitive Benefits of Breastfeeding Might Be Overstated

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If you ever want to spark a HEATED debate, just ask a room full of moms: “Which is better, breast or formula?” Chances are, you’ll get an ear full.

There are many out there who have an unshakable belief in the mantra that “breast is best,” while plenty of others maintain that formula is fine. On and on, the arguments go …

Breastfed kids are often said to be brighter and perform better academically, behaviorally, and emotionally than formula fed kids. With all this pressure coming at me to produce milk, I felt a world of guilt when I wasn’t able to breastfeed my first child and had to rely on formula. But my pride was beaming when I was successful in nursing my second child for two full years.

As a mother of two (and one on the way), I have rocked both the formula and the breastfeeding methods, exclusively each time. And honestly? I have to say that I don’t see a difference in my kids, especially now that they are 7 and 3. And apparently, science can’t either: According to NPR, a new study has revealed that any beneficial cognitive effects of breastfeeding are washed away once kids hit age 5.

The study, which was authored by Lisa-Christine Girard, a child-development researcher at University College Dublin, looked at 8,000 children in Ireland. The kids, who were ages 3 and 5 at the time of the study, were given standardized tests to look at cognitive abilities and determine whether breast milk had any effect. As it turns out, the kids who were nursed with breast milk did score higher. But according to Girard, the difference “wasn’t big enough to show statistical significance,” which ultimately meant that “weren’t able to find a direct causal link between breastfeeding and children’s cognitive outcomes.”

As Girard explained to NPR, part of the reason why kids who were breastfed tend to have lower hyperactivity and higher cognitive skills may be because their mothers tend to be higher educated, engage in less risky behaviors during pregnancy, and put a focus on activities such a reading. Girard also noted that when researchers began to apply these kinds of factors to cognitive abilities of the kids in the study, the exclusive benefits of breast milk disappeared.

Of course, this study doesn’t change the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which strongly urge mothers to breastfeed babies for the first six months of life. And while this social debate over breast versus formula will inevitably continue regardless, it is important to note that breastfeeding, when a mother is able to, can help protect babies from infections and mothers from breast cancer later in life.

The bottom line? The most important thing of all is that babies are eating and gaining a healthy weight. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter whether that milk comes from a breast or a formula. When a mother can feel confident in how she chooses to feed her children — without added pressure from this ongoing public debate — then she can be the mom that her child deserves.

For baby No. 3, I plan to try breastfeeding again; but if that fails, as it does for so many women and for so many reasons, then I won’t feel guilt over mixing up a bottle of formula. A well-fed baby is a happy baby.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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