Study shows breastfeeding has little impact on long-term brain development

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that breastfeeding may not make kids sharper or better behaved than their non-nursed peers over the long-term.

Researchers found that children who were breastfed for at least six months have improved problem solving skills at age three. But those results were barely noticeable by the time the child turned five.

The study explained that once other factors, like parents' education and social class, came into play, the difference in cognitive development with children who were breastfed compared to those who weren't was almost insignificant.

However, Teresa Oliver, lactation consultant at Sentara RMH Medical Center, says there are other good reasons to breastfeed.

"For the baby, the long-term benefits like decreasing their chance of being obese, even as adults, if they were breastfed as children," said Oliver. "And decreasing their chance of developing both type one, but also type two diabetes."

She added that mothers receive certain benefits through breastfeeding as well.

"It's a decreased chance of such things as breast cancer and ovarian cancer, especially if she breastfeeds long-term," said Oliver.

The same study which found that breastfeeding does not show clear advantages in cognitive development found that breastfed children have fewer problems with hyperactivity at the age of 3.

Oliver explained that Sentara RMH Medical Center bases its recommendations off the American Academy of Pediatrics, which encourages breastfeeding your child until they are at least 1-year-old.

Breast-feeding can help protect babies from respiratory illnesses, ear infections and diarrhea, according to the U.S. Department of Health. It’s also tied to longer-term benefits — including lower risks of asthma and obesity in children, and lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers in moms.

The new study was published March 27 in Pediatrics but is not the final word on breastfeeding and child development.