From the Christchurch Health and Development Study,
Christchurch School of Medicine, Christchurch, New Zealand.
CHICAGO (AP) - A new study suggests that youngsters who were
breast-fed as babies do better in school and score higher on
standardized math and reading tests.
The study, which tracked more than 1,000 New Zealand children
through age 18, bolsters evidence that breast-feeding helps make
smarter kids. It appears in January's Pediatrics, the journal of
the suburban Chicago-based American Academy of Pediatrics.
The authors, Professors David M. Fergusson and L. John Horwood
of Christchurch School of Medicine, subscribe to the theory that
fatty acids that are present in breast milk but not in formula
promote lasting brain development.
The breast-fed children in the study tended to have mothers who
were older, better-educated and wealthier. Skeptics say those
factors rather than the breast milk itself could explain the
But the authors wrote that they adjusted for those factors and
still concluded: "There were small but consistent tendencies
for increasing duration of breast-feeding to be associated with
increased IQ, increased performance on standardized tests, higher
teacher ratings of classroom performance and better high school
Those who were breast-fed for less than four months scored
slightly higher from ages 8 to 13 on standardized tests. The
differences increased the longer children breast-fed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics just last month urged
mothers to nurse longer - for at least one year, instead of the
recommended six months - for numerous reasons, including the
presumed mental benefits.
Dr. Lawrence Gartner of the University of Chicago, the chairman
of the group that drew up the new guidelines, said the New Zealand
study generally supports current thinking about breast-feeding.
Still, he noted, it's difficult for a study to account for all
the social and educational variables that could also explain the
Dr. Ruth Lawrence, a University of Rochester neonatologist,
called the study "an important addition." She noted that
when she began her training in the 1950s, breast-feeding was more
common among low-income, less-educated women.
Now, "the well-educated woman has moved back to realizing
that Mother Nature does it best," she said.
Horwood, L.J.., Fergusson, D.M., Pediatrics, 1998,. 101 (1):