Study Finds Breastfed Babies Have Better Cognitive Abilities Through at Least Age 14

The benefits of breastfeeding for infants and mothers as well have been well documented. Now, a new study led by researchers at the University of Oxford in England shows that babies who were breastfed for six months or longer scored higher on tests measuring verbal and spatial relations skills up until age 14 when compared with kids who weren’t breastfed as babies. The results held after the researchers controlled for moms’ education level and socioeconomic status.

Researchers followed more than 7,800 infants born in the United Kingdom from 2000 through 2002 until they turned 14. Twenty-three percent of infants were breastfed for six months or longer, and about 34 percent weren’t breastfed at all. The children took tests measuring verbal and spatial relations skills when they were 5, 7, 11, and 14.

At all ages, longer breastfeeding durations were associated with higher cognitive scores. Adjustment for socioeconomic status approximately halved the effect sizes. Further adjustment for maternal cognitive scores removed the remaining associations at age 5, but not at ages 7, 11, and 14. Breastfed babies performed better on the cognitive test later in life than those who were not breastfed, when researchers adjusted for all other factors.

The authors conclude that “while a small increase in cognitive outcomes may not be clinically meaningful at the individual level, it has the potential to be influential at the population level. Breastfeeding should continue to be encouraged, as any improvements in children’s cognitive abilities are only one aspect of the benefits it provides.”

The full study, “To What Extent Does Confounding Explain the Association Between Breastfeeding Duration and Cognitive Development up to age 14?” was published on PLOS ONE. It may be accessed here.

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