Breastfeeding may aid cognitive development


WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) – Breastfeeding for at least 6 months appears to have a positive effect on cognitive development, according to Scandinavian researchers.

In the September issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr. Torstein Vik of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and colleagues note that a number of studies have suggested that breastfeeding may help such development, but these have had methodological and other shortcomings.

To investigate further, the researchers studied prospectively obtained data on breastfeeding during the first year of 345 children. Neuromotor and cognitive function were assessed at the age of 13 months and at the age of 5 years using a variety of developmental scales and indices.

Overall, breastfeeding had no clear association with motor development, but compared with children breastfed for more than 6 months, those breastfed for less than 3 months had below-median scores on the Mental Index at 13 months. Similar below-median scores were observed for the Psychomotor Index at 5 years.

After allowing for confounders such as maternal education and smoking during pregnancy, the increased risk of lower Mental Index and total IQ scores persisted.

However, Dr. Vik told Reuters Health, the difference in IQ is unlikely be of practical importance. Mothers unable to breastfeed for this length of time or at all "may be reassured that if other factors contributing to a good cognitive development are optimal, breastfeeding may play only a minor role."

Arch Dis Child 2001;85:183-188.

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