Breastfeeding has a long-lasting effect on the mental ability of children, state British researchers at Oxford University and the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) in Essex.
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which tracked the lives of more than 14,000 mothers who gave birth in 1991 and 1992, and their children revealed that those breastfed overtook their peers who were bottle-fed from birth, and this continued right through secondary school.
Children were 'paired up' on the basis of identical family circumstances and maternal IQ, the only difference being whether they were breastfed or bottle-fed. This enabled the researchers to attribute the difference in mental ability to how they were fed.
It was discovered that breastfed babies had significantly higher IQs, on an average between three and five points higher. Maria Iacovou, a research fellow at the ISER, said that the information revealed the effect at ages five, seven, 11 and 14. Pre-school years were excluded from the study since the assessment was done by mothers who could have been subjective in their evaluations.
There were two different ideas on how breastfeeding had an effect. One was the milk had nutrients, especially fatty acids, that helped the brain develop. And the other was breastfeeding helped to strengthen the bond between the mother and the baby.
Although many earlier studies did bring out the nutritional value to a baby's health, this is one of the few ones that investigated the effect on intelligence. Yet, it has been admitted that the findings remain debatable at this stage for at least one earlier study claimed that breastfeeding has no impact on intelligence.
Another point that has aroused different viewpoints is the recommendation of The Department of Health which says that babies should be breastfed till six months, whereas pediatricians declare that if babies prefer to eat solid foods, they should be permitted to do so.
With differing viewpoints there seems to be a need for more research.