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Breastfeeding and Later Cognitive and Academic Outcomes

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 breast­feeding 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 findings.

But the authors wrote that they adjusted for those factors and still concluded: "There were small but consistent tendencies for increasing duration of breast­feeding to be associated with increased IQ, increased performance on standardized tests, higher teacher ratings of classroom performance and better high school achievement."

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 breast­feeding.

Still, he noted, it's difficult for a study to account for all the social and educational variables that could also explain the findings.

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, breast­feeding 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): 01-07

The Associated Press report above has been reprinted with permission from David M. Fergusson, Ph.D.

The full research report is available on the Pediatrics web site: Breast­feeding and Later Cognitive and Academic Outcomes. Reprint requests to David M. Fergusson, Christchurch Health and Development Study, Christchurch School of Medicine, 4345, Christchurch, New Zealand.

L. John Horwood is a Research Fellow and David M. Fergusson is an Associate professor, Christchurch School of Medicine, Christchurch, New Zealand.


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