MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Adding to reports that
breast-feeding boosts brain health, a new study finds that infants
breast-fed for six months or longer, especially boys, do
considerably better in school at age 10 compared to bottle-fed
tots, according to a new study.
''Breast-feeding should be promoted for both boys and girls for its positive benefits," said study leader Wendy Oddy, a researcher at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, Australia.
For the study, published online Dec. 20 in
Pediatrics, she and her colleagues looked at the academic scores at age 10 of more than a thousand children whose mothers had enrolled in an ongoing study in western Australia.
After adjusting for such factors as gender, family income,
maternal factors and early stimulation at home, such as reading to
children, they estimated the links between breast-feeding and
Babies who were mainly breast-fed for six months or longer had
higher academic scores on standardized tests than those breast-fed
fewer than six months, she found.
But the outcome varied by gender, and the improvements were only
significant from a statistical point of view for the boys. The boys
had better scores in math, reading, spelling and writing if they
were breast-fed six months or longer.
Girls breast-fed for six months or longer had a small but
statistically insignificant benefit in reading scores.
The reason for the gender differences is unclear, but Oddy
speculates that the protective role of breast milk on the brain and
its later consequences for language development may have greater
benefits for boys because they are more vulnerable during critical
Another possibility has to do with the positive effect of
breastfeeding on the mother-child relationship, she said. "A number
of studies found that boys are more reliant than girls on maternal
attention and encouragement for the acquisition of cognitive and
language skills. If breastfeeding facilitates mother-child
interactions, then we would expect the positive effects of this
bond to be greater in males compared with females, as we
The researchers tried to account for the mothers' education in
"We took into account mom's education and family income because we have seen before in other studies that mothers who are better educated tend to breastfeed for longer, and also read and look at books more often with their children," Oddy explained. "We took these factors into account in the analysi so as not to skew the results -- and babies breastfed for longer still did better in terms of their educational scores at 10 years of age."
It's been long understood that breast milk is of great value to
infant neurological development. "Nutrients in breast milk that are
essential for optimum brain growth, such as long-chain
polyunsaturated fatty acids, may not be in formula milk," the
The new data should not discourage mothers of daughters from
breast-feeding, added Dr. Ruth Lawrence, director of the
Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of
Rochester School of Medicine in New York.
"Because we know the constituents of human milk are so important for brain development, I would not be the least bit discouraged [about] breast-feeding a girl by such data," said Lawrence, also a member of the advisory council of La Leche League International, a breast-feeding advocacy group.
Earlier this year, Oddy published a study suggesting that
infants who were breast-fed longer than six months were less likely
to have mental health problems as teenagers.
This new study ''adds to growing evidence that breast-feeding
for at least six months has beneficial effects on optimal child
development," the researchers wrote. "Mothers should be encouraged
to breast-feed for six months and beyond."
To learn more about breast-feeding, visit the
La Leche League