Does breast milk give children an academic advantage?

Breast milk may give babies a lifelong learning advantage.

Parents invest in all kinds of books, toys, and technology to give their kids a head start in school, but did you know that breastfeeding also boosts baby’s brain power? Studies show that infants who are breastfed for six months or longer do seem to have an academic advantage over those breastfed for less than six months. This was even after researchers accounted for mother’s educational level, family income, whether or not parents read to children, and other factors that might influence scores.

How does breastfeeding impact test scores so far down the line?

Breast milk is rich in fatty acids that aid brain growth and development. For example, DHA, a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, is essential to brain health. DHA deficiencies are associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, and cognitive decline as we age. In general our bodies don’t produce DHA, so as adults, we eat foods like fish, shellfish, and some nuts and oils to give our brains what they need. However, it just so happens that breast milk is chock full of DHA, giving breastfed babies a natural brain function boost.

In addition to fatty acids and micronutrients, breast milk contains microRNAs. These microscopic pieces of genetic code program our brains to develop and function correctly. They can generate mature and functional neurons from neural stem and progenitor cells, and they help neurons renew themselves, mature, and even migrate. In short, they make the brain more adaptable.

Boys, in particular, gain academic benefits from breastfeeding.

In one study, 1,038 Australian children were followed from birth through their educational career to track their intellectual development. Boys who had been breastfed for at least six months scored about 10% better on standardized math tests and about 7% better on spelling tests than those breastfed for less than six months. While girls didn’t seem to gain quite the same advantage, the study lead Wendy Oddy noted that the difference is due to boys and girls developing differently. What’s more, girls have more estrogen, which plays a role in protecting the brain as it develops.

Another study followed more than 7,800 infants in the UK until they turned 14. Twenty-three percent of infants were breastfed for six months or longer while about 34% weren’t breastfed at all. When they were 5, 7, 11 and 14, the children took tests measuring their verbal and spatial relations skills. Children who were breastfed longer scored higher on the test, even when researchers adjusted for other factors.

You don’t have to breastfeed to give your baby an academic advantage.

Not all moms can (or want to) breastfeed, and we support your decision to make that choice for yourself and your baby. If you do want your baby to get that breast milk advantage, but breastfeeding hasn’t worked out for you, you can choose to pump breastmilk. That gives your baby all the brain boosting power associated with breast milk on your own terms.

At Milk N Mamas Baby, we have more than two decades of experience working on behalf of mothers everywhere to ensure access to high quality breast pumps to support your breastfeeding and pumping goals. If you need insight into the most comfortable, versatile, smartest pumps on the market, get in touch with our customer care specialists today!