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Posted 31 October 2008

Children exclusively breastfed for first six months show better basic cognitive development

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with the introduction of complementary foods thereafter, provide the most optimum basic cognitive development for a child, according to new research.

Using the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, scientific researchers at University College Dublin and the University of British Columbia in Canada measured the basic cognitive development of 18,819 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002* and linked this to the frequency and longevity of exclusive breastfeeding.

“At 3 years of age, the children who had been exclusively breastfed for the first six-months had developed a better knowledge of colours, numbers, and shapes,” says Dr Orla Doyle from the UCD Scholl of Public Health and Population Science and the UCD Geary Institute, one of the co-authors of the report.

“While the study controls for a range of factors, there may still be unobserved family characteristics which influence the development of a child’s cognitive ability,” explains Dr Doyle. “It is also important to realise that although cognitive ability and IQ are linked, they are not the same.”

The latest scientific findings show that the breastfeeding recommendations set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for the optimum physical development of children also hold true for basic cognitive development.

“The findings reveal that for the first five weeks after birth there is a high initial rate of return associated with exclusive breastfeeding. These returns continue to rise from the sixth week onwards but at a lesser rate. And they peak and begin to decline after 23 weeks.”

“The results provide further evidence that recent UK policy initiatives to extend paid maternity leave is appropriate for the maximal development of the child’s cognitive ability,” says Dr Doyle.

In Ireland, the maternity leave policy is six months paid leave followed by a optional six months unpaid leave.

This study is the first test of the WHO/AAP breastfeeding guidelines as associated with a child’s basic cognitive development.

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Children exclusively breastfed for first six months show better basic cognitive development