Mothers hold the power to nurture their children into fat-pocketed, intelligent adults — with their breasts. According to a new study, babies who are breastfed are more likely to have a higher IQ, education level, and income than their non-breastfed counterparts, CBS reported.
The study, published in The Lancet Global Health journal, observed the development of more than 3,000 babies into adulthood in Brazil. Lead investigator Dr. Bernardo Lessa Horta found that the key to success lies within one of the most tender moments a mother can have with their child.
“Our study provides the first evidence that prolonged breastfeeding not only increases intelligence until at least the age of 30 years but also has an impact both at an individual and societal level by improving educational attainment and earning ability,” said Horta, a researcher from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, The Guardian reports.
Kids who were breastfed, the report found, had an IQ score that was four points higher than their non-breastfed counterparts. As for education, kids who were nurtured with their mother’s milk stayed in school a year longer. In regards to income, earnings for breastfed children was one-third higher than the average income.
Before you assume that socioeconomic status might have been a confounding variable in this experiment, Horta added, “In the population we studied, breastfeeding was not more common among highly educated, high-income women, but was evenly distributed by social class.
“Previous studies from developed countries have been criticized for failing to disentangle the effect of breastfeeding from that of socioeconomic advantage, but our work addresses this issue for the first time,” he said, according to Science Daily.
So what is it about a mother’s milk — exactly — that brings about these perks for babies? “The presence of long-chain saturated fatty acids (DHAs) found in breast milk, which are essential for brain development,” Science Daily added.
Stats from the US Centers for Disease Control show that only 62 percent of Black babies born since 2010 are breastfed versus 79 percent of White babies. Historically, Black women breastfed their own children and served as wet nurses for White babies as well. In the 1920s and 30s, the introduction of formula drove down the number of women who breastfed. When evidence showed that breastfeeding was actually better for babies, White women resumed while many Black women did not.
According to the BBC, factors like having a private place at work to breastfeed and even education level — educated women who read the literature about breastfeeding are more likely to do it — impact which mothers take up the practice.
But if you do not breastfeed, don’t fret. Valerie Flaherman from the University of California said to take the findings with a grain of salt. “I do worry that sometimes when mothers hear about projects like this, they feel guilty when they were not able to breast-feed their babies,” she says.