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No Relationship Between Breastfeeding And Cognitive Development, Says Research

Today is the last day of the World Breastfeeding Week. A period during which new mothers everywhere had much to rejoice over as a lot of incredible information on this subject was shared throughout the week.

But you should not believe everything you read on the Internet. Like the latest crop of articles claiming breast milk can dramatically improve your child's cognitive development, and how reduced breastfeeding period in working women has caused many nations to lose millions of dollars in workforce capabilities.

The Reason Why There Is No Relationship Between Breastfeeding And Cognitive Development

A team of Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto conducted a meta-analysis of over 1600 articles on this subject and discovered that studies that showed a positive correlation between breastfeeding and cognitive growth were in fact nullified when the factors that cause bias in the subject (also called confounding factors) were removed.

The team sieved through 1696 articles before they zeroed in on 84 that satisfied their inclusion criteria. A feat that revealed how a child's cognitive development depended mainly on the parents' socioeconomic status and the mother's IQ, and had no relationship with breastfeeding.

The Inherent Bias

There is no denying the fact that breast milk is extremely important in the first 6 months after birth. In fact, according to the WHO guidelines on breastfeeding, mothers should nurse their babies for at least 6 months to protect them from neonatal diseases and death.

Unfortunately, this information, and the fact that breastfeeding is considered by society as the act of an ideal mother, causes most researchers to start their studies with an inherent bias against a null experience.

In short, they go in hoping to find a positive relationship between breast milk and cognitive development, which causes them to disregard all information that suggests otherwise.

The True Factors Responsible For Cognitive Development

The relationship between genetics and intelligence has been studied extensively over the years. And without a shade of doubt, the main factors that are truly responsible for a child's development are the parents' IQ, birth order, socioeconomic status, quality and quantity of stimulation and gestational age, among others.

That's why the other interesting result of this meta-analysis was the realization that studies that showed no relationship between breastfeeding and cognitive development accounted for a high number of these confounding factors, which the researches showing a positive result did not.

The Ultimate Reason Why We Cannot Say If Breast Milk Has Any Effect On Intelligence

The only way this question can be suitably answered is if a team of researchers conducted a study where a control group was prevented from breastfeeding their children, thus giving them the opportunity to map the intelligence of unfed babies over the years.

But that is a route no one can take.

Why? Because lack of breast milk drastically reduces an infant's quality of life by increasing their risk of death due to neonatal diseases. So such a research will never be allowed by any medical body on ethical grounds.

So in conclusion, while breastfeeding is extremely beneficial for a child, it truly does not have any effect on the baby's intelligence in the long term.

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Story first published: Monday, August 7, 2017, 15:33 [IST]
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