Boys Who Are Breastfed Benefit Academically

You’ve always known that breastfeeding is best for babies, but a new study has proved that breastfeeding actually can result in smarter babies, particularly boys.

A new study from the University of Western Australia has found that children who are mainly breastfed for the first six months (or longer) score significantly higher academically at 10 years of age, especially boys.

The study, “Breastfeeding Duration and Academic Achievement at 10 Years,” will be published in the January 2011 issue of the international journal “Pediatrics” (published online Dec. 20).

The analysis was drawn from data from the groundbreaking Raine Study, which has followed the growth and development of more 2,800 children born in Western Australia between 1989-1991.

Children were studied at 10 years of age. After adjusting for gender, family income and maternal verbal interaction, boys were found to have improved academic scores in math, reading and spelling if they were breastfed for six months or longer.

There was a small benefit for reading in girls.

Report co-author Associate Professor Wendy Oddy said the study provided more evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding for six months or longer.

“There are a number of ways that breastfeeding may boost academic achievement. We know that there are vital nutrients in breast milk that support brain development, particularly in terms of long-chain fatty acids,” Dr Oddy said.

“Previous studies have shown that breastfeeding accelerates boys’ maturation. Males are also known to be more vulnerable to adversity during critical periods of development than females, therefore the neuro-protective effect of estrodiols, the female hormones, in breast milk, would have greater benefits for boys.

“Breastfeeding also has a positive effect on the mother-child relationship, thereby facilitating bonding, interaction and, indirectly, cognitive growth. A number of studies have found that male babies are more dependent on maternal attention to help develop their cognitive and language skills.”

Institute Director Professor Fiona Stanley said the study demonstrates the need for the community to provide more help and support to women to breastfeed.

“It is important that breastfeeding beyond six months is seen as the normal thing to do,” Dr Oddy said. “Equally, women who don’t breastfeed, often for a range of reasons, should be reassured that there are other ways they can encourage the academic development of their child.

“While there was a modest effect of breastfeeding, the most significant predictor of educational ability was the time spent by the parent(s) reading with the child when they were young. This highlights the important role of a nurturing environment in child learning.”