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Dublin: 0°C Friday 22 January 2021

Research has figured out why breastfed babies are so smart

And it’s not really the breastfeeding at all.

Image: Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP/Press Association Images

A NUMBER OF studies have confirmed that children who were breastfed score higher on IQ tests and do better in school than those who grew up on the bottle.

But scientists have been flummoxed on the why?

Is there something magical in the milk itself? Is it because of the close bonding time? Or is it something else entirely.

Sociologists at Brigham Young University claim they have the answer.

A new study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, pinpoints two parenting skills as the real source of the cognitive boost, reports ScienceDaily.com.

According to the lead researcher, Ben Gibbs, breastfeeding mothers tend to do two things very well:

  • Respond to the emotional cues of a child; and
  • Start reading to children when or before they turn nine months old.

“It’s really the parenting that makes the difference,” said Gibbs. “Breastfeeding matters in others ways, but this actually gives us a better mechanism and can shape our confidence about interventions that promote school readiness.”

Gibbs, who worked with fellow BYU professor Renata Forste, found that improvements in sensitivity to emotional cues and time reading to children could yield two to three months’ worth of brain development by age four (as measured by math and reading readiness assessments).

“Because these are four-year-olds, a month or two represents a non-trivial chunk of time,” the sociologist explained.

And if a child is on the edge of needing special education, even a small boost across some eligibility line could shape a child’s educational trajectory.”

The study followed 7,500 mothers and their children from birth to five years old. The data set includes information on the home environment, reading and video-taped, mother-and-baby activities.

The videos were used to measure the mother’s supportiveness and sensitivity to their child’s emotional cues as it finished a challenging task.

The children who were breastfed for six months or longer also “experienced the most optimal parenting practices,” said child development expert Sandra Jacobson, who praised the BYU work.

“Gibbs and Forste found that reading to an infant every day as early as age 9 months and sensitivity to the child’s cues during social interactions, rather than breastfeeding per se, were significant predictors of reading readiness at age 4 years,” she wrote in way of explanation.

Forste also looked at the luxury of the advantaged as the researchers noted that the most at-risk children are also the least likely to receive the optimal in parenting in early childhood.

She claimed that single mothers in the labour force often do not have the same luxuries when it comes to breastfeeding and quality time with the children. Parents with less education don’t necessarily hear about research-based parenting practices either, she noted.

“This is the luxury of the advantaged,” Forste said. “It makes it harder to think about how we promote environments for disadvantaged homes. These things can be learned and they really matter. And being sensitive to kids and reading to kids doesn’t have to be done just by the mother.”

Read: Woman posts photograph of her breastfeeding a puppy ‘to save its life’

Related: Breastfeeding and eating fish could make your children smarter

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