Magazine article Newsweek

Rooting for Intelligence

Magazine article Newsweek

Rooting for Intelligence

Article excerpt

Breast-feeding is good for health and bonding. And mother's milk may have another payoff: boosting a child's IQ scores.

BREAST MILK MAY be Mother Nature's ultimate food. It's potent enough to keep babies alive for the first 16 weeks of life. It contains antibodies to ward off illness; breast-fed babies suffer fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, rashes and allergies than bottle-fed babies. For mothers, nursing lowers the chance of getting breast cancer later in life, accelerates weight loss after pregnancy and may act as a natural (though imperfect) contraceptive.

But can breast-feeding also make a baby smarter?

The answer is still uncertain. But a series of studies shows everything from "small but still detectable" increases in cognitive development to an eight-point IQ difference between breast- and bottle-fed babies. Various measurements, including standard infant testing and even report cards from grade-school children, all give a statistically significant nod to babies who nursed. In one widely publicized 1992 study by Alan Lucas of the Dunn Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, Mass., preterm infants who were tube-fed breast milk scored much higher on developmental tests than babies who were tube-fed formula. "It's hard to come out and say, 'Your baby is going to be stupider or sicker if you don't breast-feed'," says Dr. Lawrence Gartner, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' working group on breast-feeding. "But that's what the literature says." (The academy recommends that infants be fed breast milk for the first 6 to 12 months of life, with appropriate solid foods added between the ages of 4 and 6 months.)

No one can explain exactly why breast milk may be such good brain food. The precise mix of enzymes, long-chain fatty acids and proteins that make up breast milk is so complex that no human engineer could ever duplicate it. …

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