Breastfeeding is not going to make your baby a star performer at school – a study concludes

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Babies derive nutrition and immunity from breastmilk. But there is no conclusive evidence that it provides a long-term cognitive edge, a study concludes.

Breastfeeding is amazing. It not only nourishes the baby but also provides her with necessary immunity to fight pathogens. It is also one of the ways in which the baby bonds the with the mother.

Recently though, the act has become a cornerstone of activism. While it is good for the baby, mothers who do breastfeed have been looking at mothers who don’t with contempt. The advantages of breastfeeding have been glorified and have led to many mothers practice extended breastfeeding, at times, even for 6 years.

There is no denying the fact that it is awesome. However, we need to debunk the myths around breastfeeding. And, we have scientific proof now at our disposal. A recently study states that there is no cognitive benefit to breastfeeding. This means that there is no long-term advantage for a baby who has been breastfed over one who was not when it comes to learning and development.

The study

Moms, a note of caution here. There are a lot of studies out there. So you need to understand which study is based on stronger evidence. If you are ever in doubt, or the jargon of the study is not clear, look at three things: The source of publication-trust the reputed ones, especially the scientific journals; the date of publication, later could be better, and the number of participants in the study - the more the merrier.

This study, published in the American Journal of Pediatrics in March 2017, takes into account ~8000 families. They were split into two groups- children who were breastfed vs. children who were not breastfed.

To understand their development, the parents and teachers were asked to assess the children on problem behaviors, expressive vocabulary, and cognitive abilities at the ages 3 and 5. 13 outcomes were taken into account.

The cognitive development is also based on what the child experiences, not just on the nutrition.

The breastfeeding information was collected via the maternal reports. The data was analyzed using a technique called Propensity Score Matching (PSM). What PSM does is it removes the biases from a study to give more accurate correlations. After PSM, statisticians could say with a great deal of certainty if breastfeeding gave an edge to the baby as it grew up.

The results

Before applying PSM, the data suggested that the breastfed babies had a definitive advantage over the other group. However, after the statistical analysis, only 1 outcome out of 13 showed that there was a definite advantage. And this too was lost by the age of 5, when the children went to school.

Verdict

Breastfeed the baby if you can. But don’t feel bad or cornered if you can’t. It is going to help your baby in her early days, but don’t expect them to be 'super babies' just because they were breastfed. Here are 5 things you should keep in mind when it comes to breastfeeding.

  1. Breastfeeding is difficult. Just because it is natural does not mean it is easy. So do it if it is not physically hurting you. There is no sense to hurt yourself for the sake of the baby, ever in your life.
  2. Breastmilk is not an elixir. It is better than formulas, even the formula companies agree to it. However, it does not mean that the formulas are bad. Look at your convenience as well. Don’t hurt yourself to do tandem breastfeeding if it is taking too much toll on you.
  3. Pump sensibly. You are a mom, not a cow. You do not need three freezers worth of breastmilk stored just as a backup. Pump sensibly. You need your sleep as much as your baby needs your milk.
  4. Think wisely about extended breastfeeding. World Health Organization prescribes exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and supplemented breastfeeding for 2 years. Your baby is not going to smarter than other kids if he has your breastmilk when he goes to school.
  5. Don’t look down upon other mothers. Breastfeeding is tough, but you are not doing something out of this world by doing so. So don’t judge moms who don’t breastfeed, nor compare notes for the sake of competition. It is great that you can pump 10 ounces of milk in one go, but let it not be a point of pride.

Moms, breastfeeding is beautiful, but the objective is nutrition. Don’t forget that.

(Source: American Journal of Pediatrics, March 2017.)

READ: “I wanted to die in the first few seconds of breastfeeding my baby”

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