Breastfeeding and Your Baby’s Intelligence

Does breastfeeding really make your baby smarter?

The science is not perfect. Every so often, we come across a new study, a new article, or a new book that contradicts what we’ve previously held to be gospel. It is important to be wary of the sources we read – not everything that comes “backed by science” is correct, and not everything that appears unsubstantiated is wrong. Unfortunately, in this time-starved era of excess information, it is easy to grab the first headline we see and accept it without question.

In the book Welcome to Your Child’s Brain, neuroscientists Aamodt and Wang reviewed the literature and found the commonly believed fact “breastfeeding increases intelligence” to be a myth. They stated that while it is clear that breastfed children are, in general, smarter than their non-breastfeeding peers, it may not be the breast milk that is responsible but a variety of other factors that come into play. One of these factors is believed to be the intelligence of the mother.

“Compared to women who bottle-feed their children, women who breast-feed have higher IQs, are more educated, are less likely to be poor, and are less likely to smoke. An increase of about fifteen points in the mother’s IQ more than doubles her likelihood of breast-feeding her baby.” – Welcome to Your Child’s Brain

However – there is always a however isn’t there? – a recent study published after Aamodt and Wang’s book looked at 1300 mothers, controlled for parental intelligence, income, employment and education, still found breastfed kids to be smarter.

The differences held up even when the researchers controlled for parental intelligence, income, employment and education, and the benefit was biggest when babies were breastfed exclusively for the first six months. – ABC News

Why are breastfed kids smarter?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

If it isn’t because “clever mothers are found to have clever babies”, then why are breastfed kids smarter?

Unfortunately, this is the one thing that still remains uncertain. There are studies with conflicting results on the constituents of the milk so breastmilk may not be the reason. What is different about breastfeeding is the level of interaction between parent and baby and the amount of contact. Could it be that if we had more contact and interaction between caregiver and formula-fed babies, these babies would be smarter, too? This is what Dr Sears has to say about it:

Smarter connections. During the first two years of your baby’s life, the brain grows rapidly, and baby’s everyday experiences shapes brain growth. Brains cells, called neurons, multiply and connect with each other until the brain circuitry resembles miles of tangled electrical wires. Every time a baby interacts with her environment, her brain makes a new connection. Because breastmilk is digested faster, breastfed babies feed more often and therefore probably interact with their caregivers more often. Breastfeeding itself, with its skin-to-skin contact, the variations in milk flow, and the closeness between mother and baby, is usually a more interesting, more interactive experience than bottle-feeding. This is nature’s way of insuring that babies get the stimulation they need for optimal brain development.

Given that:

Well, I wouldn’t be surprised at all…

New Studies:


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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