New Study Finds No Correlation Between Breastfeeding and Intelligence

In a striking blow to lactivists, a new study out of Ireland refutes the notion that breastfed babies are smarter than their formula-fed peers. Parents magazine reports:

The  study, "Breastfeeding, Cognitive and Noncognitive Development in Early Childhood: A Population Study," which is published in the April 2017 issue of  Pediatrics, looked at 8,000 families from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal infant cohort. Researchers used parent and teacher reports and standardized assessments to understand kids' problem behaviors, expressive vocabulary, and cognitive abilities at 3 and 5 years of age. Breastfeeding information was reported by the moms.

Previous studies have found a link between breastfeeding for a minimum of six months and better problem-solving at age 3. However, in this new study, researchers determined that by 5 years old, there was no statistically significant difference in cognitive abilities between those children who were breastfed and those who were not.

It's important to note this study has its limitations—namely, that it could not account for multiple other factors that contribute to kids' cognitive abilities.

As noted in a 2015 study published in The Lancet, those “other factors” are socioeconomic. The more well-placed a mother is financially and socially, the more likely she is to breastfeed. Is her breastmilk a magical elixir with genius-giving powers, or does she have the time and money to better educate and equip her child for success?

Most mothers in America who are successful with breastfeeding fail to make it to the 6-month mark. Only 27% of babies are still breastfeeding at one year old. Correlate these statistics with when mothers return to work and how long they have the patience to pump and you’ll get a better understanding of why so few American women breastfeed. You’ll also understand why mothers have turned breastfeeding into a battle zone. As one writer recently put it, “What should be a personal choice – and frankly no one else’s damn business – has become the barometer by which we measure good mothering.”

How can a woman possibly be a good mother if she doesn’t breastfeed? And how can she possibly breastfeed if she’s got to get back to work? And how can she get anything done at work if she’s attached to a pump every three hours?

And damn those stay-at-home mothers with too much time on their hands to dig up studies about the boundless benefits of breastfeeding. So what if they’re only doing it to console themselves at 3 a.m. when their baby won’t latch again and their nipples are bleeding through their milk-stained t-shirts.

Bad science hurts all mothers, because all mothers – the good ones, anyway, and if they’re reading the studies they’re the good ones – are just trying their hardest to do what’s right for their children. And, like all parents, they’re figuring it out as they go along. This often means looking to well-reputed sources for guidance when what they should be seeking out is the balance they lost on the journey into parenthood. The balance that sees the benefits and drawbacks for child and mother. The balance that lets parents bond with their babies in peace.