Thank nature for providing your body with everything it needs to give your infant a running start in life. Among those is breastfeeding – a beautiful moment between mother and child with a truly nourishing masterpiece of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.
Breast milk provides everything a newborn needs to grow and develop. So it’s really no surprise that a new study released last week found breastfeeding may raise a baby’s IQ later in life. That baby is more likely to go to school longer as well. And, get this, there’s a good chance he’ll have a higher income to boot.
The longer you breastfeed, the more benefits for baby – and you may even pick up a few health benefits along the way too.
Study: Breastfeeding Linked to Higher IQ and Income
The study, which was published March 17 in The Lancet Global Health, found a link between breastfeeding and performance on IQ tests performed at 30. It doesn’t prove cause and effect; many factors contribute to IQ. Among them are parental intelligence, education and social upbringing.
Yes, it really does take a village to raise a child.
Still, it’s a powerful link. Medical experts who observed the study suggest breastfeeding indeed does increase IQ later in life regardless of the study’s limitations. That may be thanks to the saturated fatty acids in breast milk, which is essential to brain development.
The study consisted of data collected from almost 3,500 infants born in 1982. This was a Brazilian study, conducted by researchers at the Federal University of Pelotas in that country.
Infants who fed for a year had almost an extra year of schooling compared to those who suckled less than a month. Income was almost a third higher too, and their IQ was almost four points higher when they grew up.
Among their findings: longer term breastfeeding led to better brain performance and the benefits that go with it. For example, infants who fed for a year had almost an extra year of schooling compared to those who suckled less than a month. Income was almost a third higher too, and their IQ was almost four points higher when they grew up.
Observers speculate the benefits may be linked to the quantity of breast milk consumed.
Analysis of the data revealed breastfeeding was common among women of all income levels. The researchers controlled for other variables too, that could have skewed the results, including family income, parental schooling, mother’s age, smoking habits during pregnancy, birthweight and type of delivery.
The link held firm, and highlights the benefits of a nurturing environment for infants. They carry well into adulthood, and could help your child become a smarter and more productive member of society. Richer too – that doesn’t hurt either!
Benefits For Baby
The decision to breastfeed is a personal one. It’s yours to make, between you and your baby – though it will no doubt get opinions from family and friends.
Some well-regarded medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists highly recommend the practice. Consider these benefits of breastfeeding and you begin to see why:
Nutrition – Breast milk is highly nutritious. It’s an almost perfect blend of vitamins, proteins and fats designed by your body specifically to meet your baby’s growth needs.
Better Health – It’s got antibodies that lower the baby’s risk of asthma and allergies. Breast milk helps newborns fight off viruses and bacteria too.
Better Than Formula – Mommy’s milk is easier to digest than formula – and babies that are breastfed exclusively for the first six months have fewer ear infections, respiratory illness and bouts of diarrhea.
Weight Management – Breastfed infants are more likely to be a healthy weight as adults. That may lower their risk of diabetes, obesity and certain cancers as well.
Benefits For Mommy
Your baby isn’t the only one who benefits from breastfeeding. So will you, with short-term benefits that may lead to long-term health and wellness, including:
Weight Loss – Breastfeeding burns calories and releases a hormone called oxytocin. This helps with post-pregnancy weight loss and may reduce uterine bleeding.
Lower Risk of Breast Cancer – Women who breastfeed may have lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer and might even reduce their risk of osteoporosis.
A Bonding Experience – Breastfeeding is an act of intimacy between you and your newborn. It’s a relaxing, bonding experience when done correctly.
Your breasts make the perfect ‘starter milk’ in the first days after giving birth, called colostrum – a thick, yellowish liquid that’s scant at first, but enough to meet your baby’s requirements and help develop your baby’s digestive tract.
Experts say you should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. That means no formula, but that’s OK. It’s a supply and demand system. The more you milk, the more you’ll make.
You’ll need to be comfortable when breastfeeding. It’s important to be in a place where you won’t feel rushed. Relaxation is key here; most women find breastfeeding works best when done in the following positions:
Crade Position – In which you’ll rest the side of your baby’s head with the inside of your elbow acting as a ‘cradle’. Place your baby’s belly against your body so he’s fully supported. Wrap around to support his head and neck with your free hand, or reach through his legs to support his lower back.
Football Position – Rest your baby’s back along your forearm to hold him like a football and support his head and neck in your palm. This position is good for newborns and small babies. It’s good for mothers recovering from cesarean section too, because it puts his weight in your arms and not on your belly.
Side-Lying Position – Ideal for night feeding or while you’re lying in bed, you’ll need to rest your head on pillows to do this. Snuggle next to your baby and lift your breast and nipple into his mouth with your free hand. When your baby is ‘latched on’, support his head and neck with your free hand.
Consider the ABCs of breastfeeding. A means ‘awareness’, B means ‘be patient’ and C means ‘comfort’. Don’t wait for your baby to cry to feed him. Look for early signs of hunger – he may move his hand to his mouth, make sucking noises or simply move to your breasts. It’s important not to rush your baby, so get comfortable and expect to feed 10-20 minutes for each breast. You need to relax for milk to flow.
Some Women Should NOT Breastfeed
Though breastfeeding is natural and safe for most women, there are a few situations when it’s not advisable. Women should not breastfeed if:
- They’re HIV Positive (HIV can pass through breast milk)
- They have active and untreated tuberculosis
- They’re receiving chemotherapy for cancer
- They use illegal drugs like cocaine (or marijuana)
- The baby has a condition called galactosemia
- They’re taking certain medications
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor before breastfeeding if you’re taking medication. Don’t worry about breastfeeding if you have a cold or the flu, however because neither virus should transfer to your baby. Indeed, breastfeeding may lower his risk of both ailments with powerful antibodies to assist with immune support.
Being a man, I am not in a position to say what’s right and what’s taboo with breastfeeding and how you should do it. I have no problem with mothers breastfeeding in public, though like many I appreciate a little discretion when done around other people.
Others have written extensively about breastfeeding etiquette. If you’d like their thoughts, you’re more than welcome to read their suggestions of how to suckle appropriately.
Recently, there has been much debate surrounding Facebook, and mothers who post graphic details of their breastfeeding activities – sometimes with images. My own two cents would be that breastfeeding is an act of intimacy between you and your baby. No one else needs to know the details – and very often they don’t want to either.
What To Expect
Breastfeeding is not without some annoyances. Among those are concerns that the strains of breastfeeding can lead to ‘older breasts’. Most breast surgeons dismiss that thought, however, citing that age, gravity and lifestyle factors play a much larger role in breast shape and how they look over time.
With that being said, it’s common for women to experience challenges with breastfeeding – both mental and physical. Your nipples may get sore and dry, for example. You may worry that you’ll run out of milk. Your breasts may become engorged, experience blocked ducts and/or while unlikely, it’s not impossible they may get infected.
Review WebMD’s list of some of the challenges of breastfeeding, and what your next steps should be if they affect you and your baby.
Keep in mind, however, that breastfeeding is natural – a process designed by your body to nurture new life. While it’s not impossible you’ll experience some of these symptoms, don’t underestimate your body and its ability to keep going. So relax, talk to other mothers and keep your doctor in the loop. You’re doing your part to make the world a richer place, and give your child a good introduction to that thing we call life.