Breast-feeding increases babies' IQ
September 26, 2001 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Breast-feeding increases babies' IQ by 3-5 points, compared to the babies fed with formula. This is probably for two reasons: better nutrition and maternal bonding. Premature babies receive the greatest benefits.
posted by antimarx (17 comments total) doesn't seem to say anything about what it might do for those taking it up later in life. Further studies may be indicated....
posted by rushmc at 9:38 PM on September 26, 2001

The margin of error on IQ tests is 4-6 points. A difference of 3-5 points is statistically insignificant.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:47 PM on September 26, 2001

My friend is having a baby, and his girlfriend was a little nervous about breast feeding, so she joined a breast feeding support group. I guess they discuss issues surrounding breast feeding, that sorta thing. Anyway, at the first meeting, one woman stood up and asked for advice on how to wean her twin boys. This seemed like a reasonable question, until she told the group that her twins are almost 4 years old.
Now, I don't know the proper guidlines for breastfeeding children, but I think when they're old enough to discuss the topic with friends at's time to move on. "Sorry guys, I can't come out and play, I have to suck on my mother's breast."
I don't know how this relates to IQ, except to say that maybe I should have been breast-fed.
posted by Doug at 10:01 PM on September 26, 2001

think 4 years old is bad?
prepare to be totally disgusted.
I waited tables for a few years, and once, a lady came in with her kid, and during her meal, he started crying. Imagine me, standing there, while this marginally good looking young lady pulls her top up, pops the ol tit out, and starts breastfeeding her child.
who looks to be around 12.
No kidding.
I started to ask where the line ended, but I kept my mouth shut.
and checked back frequantly to see if she needed any , you know, ground pepper, or extra napkins, or whatever. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing....
posted by bradth27 at 10:11 PM on September 26, 2001

this article explains why i'm so fucking smart, i guess.


i remember a dateline article, once upon a time, about a woman who was still breastfeeding her son at some shockingly old age... 5? 6? i don't know what kind of effects it really has on the child -- that is to say, if the special went over that, i forgot. so it happens every now and then.
posted by moz at 10:11 PM on September 26, 2001

I bet those kids must have really high IQs.
posted by Loudmax at 10:48 PM on September 26, 2001

(Aside: Oh, gods, please, not this thread again .... )

I have to admit, my first question was, "How the hell do you test the IQ of an infant?" Multiple choice? Essay questions?
posted by webmutant at 10:55 PM on September 26, 2001

Why is this a front page post? The article is from 1999, and there are other studies that pre-date it that reached the same conclusion. There is more comprehensive data on the same study here. It isn't even original research. It's a "meta-analysis" (woohoo!) using data from 11 previous studies.

Also, this study in particular is generally considered problematic. It was (partly) funded by a company that produces DHA, the long chain fatty acid associated with the increased IQ -- as a formula supplement. See the last paragraph. Also, many researchers think the breast-feeding link to higher IQ scores reflects the fact that breat-feeding mothers tend to be more well-educated and wealthier, a proven demographic.

Sorry, antimarx, and not to say that I disagree with the conclusion. We had our first son in 1984 and it was a common belief even then. All 4 of our boys were breastfed for at least 3 months (but no longer than 6!).
posted by JParker at 10:59 PM on September 26, 2001

Forget IQ. Breast milk from the birth mother is better for the baby's immune system. It's shameful how artificial milk companies heavily push their product in the third world, presenting even more health issues for impoverished people. (As if these people should be spending money on a product that is available naturally anyway. They should spend what money they have to nourish the mother and the rest will come.)
posted by fleener at 12:21 AM on September 27, 2001

Hate to sound like a cultural relativist here, but weaning so early is a product of the industrial revolution. Most cultures wean at one year or later. There's the incidental benefit that breast-feeding women are less likely to conceive...

Dunno about the IQ benefits. I can report that my daughter was breast fed until about 3 1/2. By the time she was weaned, she had a token suck once a day, and just couldn't be bothered any more. In the meanwhile, she got sick noticeably less than her early-weaned/bottle-fed peers.

Yeah, 12 sounds pathological, but 4? When either the mother or the child is ready to stop, it's time to stop. But otherwise, why not? You sickos who are drinking cow's milk still might want to think your reasoning through a little. (Warning - that's a big old flash link there).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:08 AM on September 27, 2001

This reporter obviously wasn't paying attention to already shakey info: "This study confirms that nutrients in breast milk and maternal bonding have beneficial effects on IQ,"

Breast Milk is better than formula. Not breast feeding. No one argues that breast milk is better than formula. No one. The method of delivery, whether it's bottle or breast, matters very little. It's debatable, sure. But there is absolutely no scientific research that supports Breast Feeding over Bottle feeding of breast milk.
posted by keith at 6:18 AM on September 27, 2001

But there is absolutely no scientific research that supports Breast Feeding over Bottle feeding of breast milk.

Not true. There have been numerous studies in humans and monkeys on the socialization effects on bonding in such situations. In one culture, babies are hardly EVER put down--they're just carried around all day long--which was contrasted to our society in which they are lying in a crib or somewhere most of the time and only picked up to be fed, comforted or played with. They seemed to find a difference in "self-esteem" and socialization later in life.
posted by rushmc at 6:36 AM on September 27, 2001

A 3-5 point difference on an IQ test will mean what? I mean, lets assume (big assumption) that everything reported is absolutely correct. BFD! At an IQ of 50, that 3-5 point increase won't make a jot of improvement in quality of life or adaptability to life. At an IQ of 150, a 3-5 point deficiency won't impose any burden on real-life ability or potential.

It's a difference that doesn't make a difference.

Of course, maybe if I had a 3-5 point higher IQ I could explain this more clearly.
posted by yesster at 6:51 AM on September 27, 2001

I suggest reading Natural Age of Weaning for all of you who are queasy at the thought of extended breastfeeding. The Amer. Academy of Pediatrics recommends BF for "at least 12 months and thereafter for as long as mutually desired."

I've been breastfeeding my baby for 6 months. Unlike my friends' kids (who are formula fed), he is never sick. Ever. Not to mention that its free, instead of the $100+ a month my friends shell out. As for pumping and bottle delivery, why? As someone who has done it, pumping is a pain. Why bother doing more work when you don't have to?

The benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding are astounding, and I've seen research showing at least 10-20 IQ pts (although I can't find that link right now). Check out the 101 reasons to breastfeed for more info.

And as for the annoying formula companies -- they are breaking the World Health Organization's code for marketing breastmilk substitutes in the U.S. and other countries. More babies die from formula use in 3rd world countries (4000/day) than people from tobacco-related illness in the US (1800/day).
posted by kat at 7:11 AM on September 27, 2001

"The method of delivery, whether it's bottle or breast, matters very little."

Actually, the method of feeding does make a difference. The difference is in the angle that the baby is in relationship to the bottle as well as the fact that milk leaves a bottle faster that milk leaves the breast. This can cause a backup of fluid into the anatomically shortened eustachian tubes of the infant -- leading to increased incidents of ear infections.
posted by aaronchristy at 6:26 PM on September 27, 2001

This has already been linked to on MeFi. But it's still damned funny.
posted by Sinner at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2001

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