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Study links breastfeeding to higher IQ and more success in life

Way back in 1982, researchers began studying almost 6,000 newborns. Now, over 30 years later, the long-term study has drawn some fascinating conclusions about long-term breastfeeding.

When researchers studied the now-adult test subjects, they found that exclusive and extended breastfeeding was associated with higher IQ, better educational attainment and higher income. Before you blow your retirement and plan on living off your baby genius’s income when he’s a neurosurgeon 30 years from now, consider the potential gaps in this research.

The study didn’t explore the home life of each of these babies, so it’s impossible to know if the actual breast milk influenced intelligence or if it had more to do with mother-child bonding and other types of intellectual stimulation in the home. (Or if it was all of these factors combined.) But the study, which was published in The Lancet Global Health, suggests that there’s a high likelihood that “breastmilk itself has a programming effect on intelligence.” Whoa.

A lot of factors go into success in life, success in education and general intelligence. Upbringing and income can have a lot to do with that. What’s particularly interesting about this study is that the results seemed to cross socio-economic boundaries. When it began in Brazil in the ’80s, no particular group of women was more likely to breastfeed for a year or longer. Regardless of upbringing, the babies who were breastfed the longest were more likely to be more intelligent and successful.

What does this actually mean? Of course it’s another element of “breast is best,” but like any study on the benefits of breastfeeding, it isn’t meant to condemn mothers who breastfeed for a short amount of time or don’t breastfeed at all. It definitely doesn’t mean that breastfeeding for a year or longer is a one-way ticket to raising kids who become successful, wealthy adults.

Don’t stress out if you didn’t breastfeed or don’t plan do. And if you did breastfeed your kids for over a year, make sure you remind them how difficult that was. Frequently. Your kids owe you a cut of that big, fat paycheck in 30 years.

More on feeding babies

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