According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, breast-feeding may not have very much impact when it comes to children's long-term cognitive development and behaviour. In fact, the cognitive effects of breast-feeding actually taper off as a child gets older. In other words, breast-feeding isn't necessarily "better" than formula feeding when it comes to a child's cognitive development.
The study looked at over 7,000 children in Ireland who were born full-term, beginning when they were nine months old, and had them take tests while aged 3 and 5 to measure cognitive skills. While researchers found that children who were exclusively breast-fed for six months or more had lower hyperactivity levels and improved problem-solving skills, those advantages were negligible by the time the children turned 5.
“[The difference] wasn’t big enough to show statistical significance,” study author Lisa-Christine Girard, a child-development researcher at University College Dublin, told NPR. “We weren’t able to find a direct causal link between breast-feeding and children’s cognitive outcomes.”
While breast-feeding has many known health benefits, once researchers accounted for socio-economic factors such as mothers' IQ scores and various home environments, its stand-alone effect on cognitive development disappeared. In other words, there are many factors that influence a child's cognitive development. Breast milk can definitely be healthy for a child, but it's good to know that at least when it comes to cognition, formula-fed babies can be just as healthy.
Nancy Hurst, director of Women's Support Services at Texas Children's Hospital Pavilion for Women, told CNN that