By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – There’s no question that there are a number of health reasons to breastfeed your baby, but one big question we’ve had is, does it really make a child smarter? Over the years some experts have claimed it definitely does, others are more lukewarm on the claim.

This week comes a study in the journal Pediatrics that adds more evidence to the belief of “probably not.”

The research followed a group of close to 8,000 infants for five years. It finds that those kids who were breast fed for at least six months after birth did have a slightly better vocabulary, problem-solving skills, and so forth, up to about age three. Then, by age five, that slight advantage pretty much disappeared. (The study called it a “lack of cognitive boost”).

Frankly, that’s not much of a surprise since the best study to date before this one showed that the average breast-fed child had a little more than 1.8 points on an IQ test during childhood.

So I think the claim that breast milk makes a child more intelligent doesn’t quite hold up as we hoped — overall good nutrition, good parenting and specifically spending quality time with a child seem to be the best brain boosters out there. There are just a bundle of variables.

Now that’s not to say breast milk doesn’t offer much else. It does. Quite a bit more, in fact.

Breast feeding for at least six months, preferably to 12 months, does build immunity because of all of the antibodies present in breast milk. Breast-fed children tend to have fewer colds, ear infections, bouts of diarrhea, and less risk of the development of allergies.

There are also some suggestions that being breast fed as a baby lowers the risk of things such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure during the teenage years and adulthood.

Plus, there are some benefits for a nursing mom, including a lowering lifelong risk of the development of breast cancer.

Sometimes, breast feeding is difficult — from physical to reasons of lifestyle. In any case, there are resources available for you. Most hospitals along the Front Range have lactation support and services. I’d encourage you to take advantage of them and breast feed if possible.

For more info and tips, here’s a link to a great lactation site with the Academy of Pediatrics:

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida


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