Benefits of breastfeeding: IQ and self-esteem

I'm trying to convince a very intellectual new mom that breastfeeding is best. (My son self weaned at 15 months.) I'm looking for information regarding gains in IQ and self-esteem, as well as mother-child bonding. My friend, whose baby is three months old, is returning to work and she feels that he's gained all the benefit that he will from breastfeeding.


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the nursing relationship you had with your son. Your enthusiasm for breastfeeding will probably inspire many people. But, even your best friends can be very difficult to convince about the importance of continued breastfeeding if they feel that it doesn't fit into their life.

You might find it helpful to talk with your friend about how moms have handled going back to work and expressing their milk, since this seems to be of concern to her. There are several articles addressing this issue that may be of help to her, such as Back to Work After Baby: 12 Things to Know Before You Go.

Mother-baby bonding is enhanced by breastfeeding. Much of the interaction that goes on between any two people is non-verbal. The closeness that develops through the continued skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding so naturally provides is something all children (and their mothers) thrive on. It speaks volumes to your child about how much he is loved and accepted. To put it simply, children who are well-mothered are more secure than those who aren't. Good self-esteem naturally results.

IQ does seem to be significantly raised by breastfeeding. In 1992 a study published in Lancet, by Morley et al., "Breast Milk and Subsequent Intelligence Quotient in Children Born Preterm", babies fed their mother's milk had a significantly higher IQ (rise of 8.3 points) at seven to eight years of age than those who were formula fed, even after adjusting for the mom's educational, social and economic status.

Baumgartner, 1984 "Psychomotor and Social Development of Breast Fed and Bottle Fed Babies During Their First Year of Life" found that the psychomotor and social capabilities of breastfed infants at 12 months of age were significantly higher than their artificially fed peers.

Research has shown that the shorter the duration of breastfeeding, the greater the deficiencies in learning (Rogan, 1993). At this point in time, studies have only encompassed the first two years of a baby's life, though there is little doubt that breastfeeding is beneficial as long as your child continues to nurse.

Early mother-infant attachment has been shown to have a lasting effect on interactions between the pair and on the child's later development and well-being. Development of self-esteem does not come to fruition at an arbitrary date, such as three months. It is built over a child's lifetime. The same can be said for the development of IQ. There is a genetic component to it, and an environmental component. Since a baby's brain experiences such rapid growth during his first two years of life, I would agree with one of our past Surgeon Generals, Antonio Novello, when she said how lucky the child is, who is nursed through his second year of life. Best wishes to you and your friend. She's very lucky to have your support.

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