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Australian study finds breastfed kids smarter


It is not known precisely why, but breastfed children tend to end up significantly smarter than those who are bottle-fed, a major Australian study has concluded.

The 21-year study by a research team at Brisbane's University of Queensland examined the development of 3,880 children and found that the breastfed ones ended up with an intellectual advantage of eight IQ points.

Team leader Jake Najman said: 'It's the difference between being an average child and being a reasonably bright child.' The research, published in the United States-based Journal Of Pediatrics And Child Health, is part of a study which began before the children were born -- during the early pregnancy of their mothers in 1981.

Sociology Professor Najman said: 'What we're looking at is how the health of the mother and child changes over time and what are the factors that influence those changes.'

The mothers, 80 per cent of whom breastfed their babies, were questioned about feeding when the babies were six months old. Five years later, the children were given standard tests of verbal intelligence.

Prof Najman said the results were adjusted for a range of biological and psychosocial factors such as marital status and economic circumstances, as well as the mother's education level and emotional state.

Several explanations were suggested, including the possibility that mothers who breastfeed developed a stronger attachment with their children, thereby encouraging cognitive development.

Another was that omega fatty acids found in breast milk may be giving breastfed children an intellectual advantage.

'It may also be the case that breast milk contains more antibodies and the children who are breastfed are less likely to get infections as young children,' Prof Najman said.

'Therefore, their development might not be as affected by childhood infections as other children.'

The researchers analyzed data collected when the children were 14 to test whether the advantage continued as they aged, and are now following up by questioning them at 21 years of age.

'We're looking at their learning and achievements now so we'll be able to say something about how breastfeeding might have influenced their success in later life.'

Prof Najman stressed the research that was not aimed at trying to make mothers who failed to breastfeed feel inadequate, adding that many factors can influence a child's abilities.

'There will be children who have not been breastfed who will be very bright. There will be children who have been breastfed who aren't all that bright.

'Breastfeeding is only one of the factors that's likely to be important. -- AFP September 2002



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