We all know that breastfeeding provides numerous physical and emotional benefits to both mother and baby. And for years, many medical professionals, breastfeeding supporters and mothers have believed that breast milk can give children a cognitive advantage over those who are not breastfed. This argument has provided plenty of fuel for debate between the “breast is best” and “fed is best” communities.
But now, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that breastfeeding has little impact on long-term cognitive development and behavior, meaning a child’s cognitive development is the same at 5 years old regardless of whether they were breast or bottle fed, the researchers found.
The study, which started with infants at 9 months old, looked at the behavior, vocabulary level and cognitive ability of 7,478 children in Ireland at age 3 and 5 and analyzed in relation to whether or not they had been breastfed. The researchers linked breastfeeding with improved problem-solving and reduced hyperactivity in children at age 3, but not at age 5.
According to NPR, the results determined that overall, breastfed kids scored a tad higher. “But [the difference] wasn’t big enough to show statistical significance,” says study author Lisa-Christine Girard, a child-development researcher at University College Dublin. In other words, the differences in scores were so small that researchers consider it a statistical wash. “We weren’t able to find a direct causal link between breastfeeding and children’s cognitive outcomes,” Girard says.
Maybe this new information will help mothers who did not (or could not) breastfeed feel a little bit better about their decision. Because let’s face it, with so many people giving out “what’s best for baby” tips, new moms are already prone to worry over every choice they are making — and who could blame them? So, consider this further evidence of what should have been clear all along. Whether you breastfeed, formula feed, pump and feed or combo feed, all that really matters is that your baby is fed, nurtured, cared for and loved.