Do Breast Fed Babies Do Better?
Is Cognitive Ability and Academic Achievement Enhanced?

In the debate over whether babies should be on the breast or bottle, few points may prove as persuasive as the results of a new study indicating that breastfeeding is associated with detectable increases in child cognitive ability and educational achievement.

The study was reported in the January 1998 issue of the journal Pediatrics that is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report is by L. John Horwood and David M. Fergusson from the Christchurch School of Medicine in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The study looked at the relationships between the duration of breast feeding --- how long children were on the breast -- and their cognitive ability and academic achievement over a period of 8-18 years. The data were collected in the course of an 18-year longitudinal study beginning at birth of over 1000 children.

From birth to a year of age, information was collected on maternal breast feeding practices. Then, over the years the children were tested on a range of measures of cognitive and academic performance. These included "measures of child intelligence quotient; teacher ratings of school performance; standardized tests of reading comprehension, mathematics, and scholastic ability; pass rates in school leaving examinations; and leaving school without qualifications."

Longer breastfeeding was found to be associated with consistent and statistically significant increases in:

  • Intelligence quotient of the children tested at age 8-9 years
  • Reading comprehension tested at age10-13 years
  • Mathematical ability tested at age10-13 years
  • Scholastic ability tested at age10-13 years
  • Teacher ratings of reading and mathematics at 8-12 years and
  • Higher levels of attainment in school final examinations.