New moms receive a lot information about the immediate and short-term benefits of breastfeeding. It can aid in postpartum weight loss, help boost babies' immunity, and promote mother-child bonding. But there are also lasting benefits. For example, breastfeeding may enhance your baby's memory later in life, according to new research conducted by Queen's University Belfast, in collaboration with University College Dublin, University College London, and Cass Business School.
Examining data from roughly 9,000 participants born in the year 1958, the team of researchers determined that babies who were breastfed — for a minimum of one month or more — not only scored higher on memory tests in adulthood compared to babies who were not, but also went on to have a higher household income, according to Medical Xpress. The participants were a nationally representative sample of babies born in England, Wales, and Scotland, according to the study. Researchers tracked them from birth to adulthood to examine the potential economic benefit of breastfeeding.
Lead researcher in the study, Dr. Mark McGovern, Lecturer in Economics from Queen's Management School, told Medical Xpress that this study stands out from the existing pool of breastfeeding research. "Promotional campaigns have highlighted the health benefits of breastfeeding in recent years, " McGovern said in a press release for the study. "However, our research shows that in addition to those benefits, breastfeeding may also have a significant economic impact throughout the life course."
McGovern and his team found that the participants who were breastfed had a 10 percent higher household income at age 50 and scored higher on memory tests at that time as well, according to The Independent. This study's aim to uncover the financial implications of breastfeeding is unique, but its findings related the cognitive edge that breastfeeding may give babies is not. Numerous other studies have examined how breastfeeding impacts the brain.
Health Line reported that there may be a difference in brain development between breastfed and formula-fed babies which could lead to higher intelligence scores and less behavioral and learning problems during adolescence. The difference could be due to the physical intimacy, touch, and eye contact that comes with breastfeeding, as Health Line reported. The effects are most pronounced in premature babies who tend to struggle more in these areas.
Another study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2008 found that breastfeeding can lead to a higher IQ. The study followed roughly 14,000 children from birth to six-and-a-half years old and found that those who were exclusively breastfed scored about 6 percent higher on IQ tests than those who were not breastfed, according to The Bump. Additionally, the breastfed children in this study also scored better on academic tests and received higher ratings from their teachers. The unique fatty acid profile in breastmilk is crucial to brain development, according to The Bump, and it has yet to be perfectly replicated in baby formula, which could explain the difference in cognitive test scores.
Along with lasting intellectual benefits, breastfed babies also experience other health benefits later in life. The Cleveland Clinic reported that teens and adults who were breastfed are less likely to go on to develop rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and lupus. They also have lower risks of multiple sclerosis and pre- and postmenopausal breast cancers.
But babies aren't the only ones who reap benefits throughout their lives. Breastfeeding also reduces a mom's risk of a number of diseases, according to Health Line. These women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer, as well as metabolic syndromes and various heart conditions than those who do not breastfeed, according to Fit Pregnancy. Finally, mothers who breastfeed for one to two years throughout their lifetime have a 10 to 50 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with high blood pressure, arthritis, high blood fats, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, according to Health Line.
At the end of the day, however, fed is best; many women cannot or choose not to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. But with research such as this, women are able to make more informed decisions about how to feed their children. And that is a win for everyone.