IQ, Intelligence and Brain Development- Another Breastfeeding Benefit
By Carrie Lauth
Modern parents want to do everything they can to
help their children's brain development. Never before have there
been so many products and books sold that claim to help parents
stimulate their baby's brain, assist in brain development, and give
baby an intelligence "edge".
Recently, a variety of studies have come to light
that tout the benefits of breastfeeding on brain development and
What IS the connection between breastfeeding and
It comes down to a couple of important things, some
of which are tangible and measurable, and some that are not.
The Importance of Fats and Other Essential
Breastmilk contains the ideal ratio of fats, amino
acids and other nutrients that baby needs for brain and nervous
system development. These ingredients provide the ideal basis for
the "hard-wiring" component of a person's intelligence.
For instance, Taurine is an important amino acid
found in high concentrations in mother's milk. (In contrast, it is
almost nonexistent in cow's milk.) Taurine has an important role in
the development of brain tissue, among other things. A baby's body
is unable to form Taurine on its own, so s/he is totally reliant on
his food to supply this.
Another important ingredient of mom's milk are fats.
Breastmilk contains high amounts of important fats, such as DHA and
ARA. These are very important components of brain structures, and
research has shown that breastfed infants have higher concentration
of these essential fats in their brain and blood than do formula fed
Some artificial baby milk manufacturers are adding
Taurine and DHA to their formulas, but this does not make these
identical to mother's milk. Researchers have concluded that there is
an important interplay between all of the components of breastmilk
that cause this effect, and that this effect can't be duplicated.
Cholesterol is another ingredient found in high
concentrations in breastmilk. It is needed to build tissue in the
brain and nervous system. Babies need cholesterol in the first two
years of life. (Incidentally, there is evidence that points to a
connection between cholesterol in breastmilk and the ability to
handle dietery cholesterol in adulthood.)
Studies comparing breastfed children and their
formula fed peers in different ages and stages of life show time and
again that breastfed infants do better on various tests of
intellectual ability. Some have shown these differences persisting
for many years.
Even after the differences in socioeconomic status
were accounted for or eliminated in these studies, breastfed
children still clearly come out ahead.
In fact, one study showed that premature infants who
were breastfed had significantly higher IQs than formula fed babies,
and when babies were fed a combination of breastmilk and formula,
their cognitive scores were directly related to the amount of
mother's milk they received.
Hormones- Both Baby's and Mom's
Mother's milk has a high level of endorphins in the
first few days after birth. No doubt this helps the baby ease the
transition to life outside the womb.
When babies are stressed out, their tiny bodies are
in "fight or flight" mode, and essential energy is
directed away from growth and development, which would have an
obvious effect on the brain.
Additionally, a nursing Mom is biologically a
different animal than a non-breastfeeding one.
For instance, when a woman breastfeeds, her body is
flooded with pleasure hormones, one of which is Oxytocin, the so
called "love hormone", that is also present during orgasm.
This hormone helps her to feel relaxed and bonded with her baby.
Oxytocin triggers nurturing activity, which no doubt plays a huge
role in baby's cognitive and emotional development.
Since lactation suppresses the nervous system
response to stressful stimuli, a happy nursing Mommy means a happy
What are some of the intangible benefits that
breastfeeding has on brain development and IQ?
Physical Closeness and Emotional Health
In recent years a lot of emphasis has been put on
"Emotional Intelligence". How does breastfeeding assist
with helping a child develop this?
The closeness of breastfeeding is an important
bridge between baby's intrauterine life and his new experience of
being out in the world. Studies have shown that babies who receive
lots of closeness with their primary caregiver, and lots of
stimulating eye contact and "conversation" are getting
important brain stimulation that gadgets and toys cannot produce.
That is not to say that a formula feeding Mother
doesn't do this, but a breastfeeding baby can't help but have lots
of skin to skin contact and interaction with his Mother!
Breastfeeding also gives Mom a chance to reconnect
with her busy crawling baby or walking toddler, who seems to spend
all his time running from Mom. Having several quiet moments during
the day to kiss those dimpled hands, sniff that sweet smelling head,
and tickle those fat feet (that will be bigger than your own soon
enough) is an important way for Mom and Baby to get that closeness.
The late Dr. Lee Salk, pediatric psychologist, said
that "The baby whose cries are answered now will later be the
child confident enough to show his independence and curiosity. But
the baby left to cry may develop a sense of isolation and distrust,
and may turn inward...later in life, this child may continue to cope
with stress by trying to shut out reality."
The closeness of breastfeeding makes for a happier
baby, one who is settled inside and who trusts that another human
will be there to meet his needs, instead of an outside gadget. Don't
we want our children learning this important lesson from infancy?
Of course, breastfeeding does not automatically
guarantee that a child will be smart, but it can be a way to
guarantee that a child lives up to their full genetic potential for
emotional intelligence, smarts and IQ!
Carrie is a work at home Mom of 3, a homebirth advocate,
breastfeeding educator and homeschooler. http://www.motmomz.com