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Why is breastfeeding linked with a child’s cognitive development?

Why is breastfeeding linked with a child’s cognitive development?

There is a long standing debate as to whether breastfeeding is linked to a child’s cognitive development.  Recent studies might suggest that parenting behavior and a high level of sensitivity to a child’s emotional queues; not specifically breastfeeding is the main catalyst for brain development.  A new study from Brigham Young University noted that parenting behavior such as reading together at a young age and being attune to the child’s learning process has a significant correlation to a child’s cognitive development.  It is also noteworthy that several studies have found mothers who breastfeed tend to have more advanced education, better financial resources and greater social support.

The question might become, is it the breast milk or the idea that these mothers are more likely to provide their children with lots of cognitive stimulation that shows the strong relation to cognitive development.  The study at Brigham Young University reviewed records of 7500 American children from infancy through preschool years and included information about early feeding experiences and cognitive development.  Beyond this information the researchers had data related to the family’s socioeconomic status, mother’s education attainment and parenting practices.  Based on this information the researchers determined there was a weak correlation between being breastfed and attaining higher than average math skills but there was a more definitive link between breastfeeding and pre-literacy skills.  However, this correlation vanished when the researchers factored in how often the mother read to their child and responsiveness to emotional queues.

The study does not diminish the importance of breastfeeding as it is noted that researchers still recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months and longer if possible. Breastfeeding is linked to a decrease in the chance of childhood obesity and boost the infant’s immunity to certain illness.  However, not every mother is able to breast feed; based on this study it is encouraging to know that as a mother being sensitive to your child’s needs gives the child the same advantage in terms of cognitive development.

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