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New Study Finds No Link Between Breastfeeding And IQ

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(Photo: iStockPhoto/Getty Images/SelectStock)

Breastfeeding has been alleged to have numerous benefits for infants over formula. Some of those are true, but others are vastly overstated. One of the more questionable assertions has long been the idea that breastfeeding a baby gives it a higher IQ than it would have if raised on formula, but according to The Telegraph, a recent study from the University of London indicates that there’s no reliable association between breastfeeding itself and IQ scores in children.

The “breastfeeding makes children smarter” assertion was always one of the breastfeeding claims that seemed like the biggest stretch. It seemed virtually impossible to prove, especially because children’s IQ test results are notoriously influenced by socioeconomic factors. More financially advantaged children are more likely to be breastfed and more likely to score higher on IQ tests, and taking higher IQ scores of breastfed infants as a sign that breastfeeding increases IQ seemed like an excellent example of conflating correlation and causation.

“Many researchers have previously investigated whether being breastfed in early life benefits IQ,” said study author Dr. Sophie Von Stumm in the journal PLoS One. “However, few of the earlier studies have employed strong research designs that produce reliable results.”

This new study from Goldsmiths, University of London used data from the Twins Early Development Study, which specifically looks at twins in an attempt to separate data that could otherwise be attributed to things like home life and socioeconomic differences. According to The Telegraph, the study looked at 11,000 British children, and in the end researchers said breastfeeding did not impact children’s IQ in any reliable way.

“Breastfeeding has little benefit for early life intelligence and cognitive growth from toddlerhood through adolescence,” the study concluded.

The researchers did not say there was no reason to breastfeed. They did cite other benefits, like a boosted immune system and a decreased chance of allergies, but stressed that there was no reason to think breastfeeding would make a child smarter or that using formula would make a child less smart. It looks like breastfeeding alone won’t get your kid into Stanford.

IQ is a pretty meaningless gauge of intelligence anyway. It’s a decent measure of intellectual development of children based on their performance relative to their age, and thus can be a reasonably good assessment of academic potential in children. In adults, IQ is basically meaningless. If you find an adult who boasts about his or her IQ, you’ve basically just met a person you’ll probably want to avoid in the future.

“Children – and adults – differ in their cognitive abilities, and it is important to identify factors that give rise to these differences. But comparatively small events like breastfeeding are very unlikely to be at the core of something as big and complex as children’s differences in IQ,” the study said. “Instead, children’s IQ differences are better explained by long-term factors, for example, children’s family background and their schooling,”

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