Breastfeeding Linked To Higher IQ

At least 60 percent of the average intelligence gain seen in breast-fed infants comes from breast milk’s nutritional value, rather than benefits from maternal bonding. Add higher infant IQs to the list of potential benefits derived from breastfeeding.

After reviewing 20 published studies on the effects of breastfeeding on infant IQ, researchers suggest that breast-fed babies' IQs may be 3 to 5 points higher than those of formula-fed babies. And the longer a baby is breast-fed, the greater the benefits to his or her IQ. Lead researcher Dr. James W. Anderson, professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky, attributes the higher IQ levels to brain food found in the mother's milk.

Breast milk contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) -- long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that appear to support brain development. These nutrients are not found in formulas sold in the United States.

The findings suggest that low birth weight babies receive the greatest benefits from breastfeeding because they do not receive adequate DHA and AA during pregnancy, so they are born deficient in these nutrients. This study confirms that nutrients in breast milk and maternal bonding have beneficial effects on IQ.

Infants deprived of breast milk are likely to have lower IQ levels, lower educational achievement, and poorer social adjustment than breast-fed infants. Other benefits of breastfeeding are that breast milk is easier to digest than formula, it provides natural antibodies that help protect newborns from common childhood diseases, and it is also less expensive than infant formula.

The study was partially funded by Martek Biosciences Corp., a company that manufactures plant versions of two fatty acids found in breast milk, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA). Anderson, who subscribes to the theory that DHA and AA promote lasting brain development, said he sought funding from Martek. 

Martek has a strong interest in seeing DHA and AA approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a supplement in U.S.-made infant formula. Formulas sold in 60 countries contain DHA and AA but they are not approved for use here. 

A scientist who has studied DHA and an infant formula maker cautioned that studies have not shown a clear link between DHA consumption and increased IQ.  He believes people deserve to understand that while breast-feeding has been linked to cognitive functions, DHA has mainly been linked to effects which are not cognitive, like (increased) attention and other behavioral effects.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition October 1999; 70


There was a newsletter article a few weeks ago that speculated that DHA might be the missing ingredient in breast milk that is not being routinely supplied in traditional formulas.

My concern is that it is highly likely that if DHA is given out of its balanced ratio that is present in fish oil, that detrimental biochemical derangements may occur. Adding a fish oil supplement to conventional formula may be a wise idea, but adding DHA by itself is likely to be counterproductive.

I would encourage all women who are able to do so to try to breastfeed, as it is the single most important thing a mother can do for her baby.

If a woman is interested in breastfeeding but still needs to go back to work for whatever reason, it would be very beneficial if she investigated the possibility of pumping or expressing her milk. If you need breastfeeding supplies, such as breast pumps, you can try Nursing Mother Supplies, which carries a wide variety of products to help you successfully breastfeed.

(Note: A small percentage of any sales generated by going through the link above will be donated back to the website, to help me to continue to supply this completely FREE service.)

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