Breast milk is your baby’s best source of nutrition, providing all of the vitamins and nutrients needed for proper development in the first 6 months of life. It’s also full of beneficial substances that help to fend off everything from colic and allergies to common childhood infections.
But while breastmilk’s protective and development-promoting properties are well known, growing evidence suggests that the true benefits of breastfeeding may go way beyond early childhood.
Here’s what breastfeeding can do for your baby:
1. Higher IQs
A Brazilian study published in The Lancet Global Health found a strong link between breastfeeding and high IQ.
The study followed more than 3400 children over a span of 30 years and discovered that those who were breastfed for 12 months or more as babies had IQ scores nearly 4 points higher than those who had been breastfed for less than one month.
2. Boosts Proper Brain Development
Evidence from other studies suggests that the brains of breastfed babies receive a head start when it comes to development. Researchers believe that this is due to the nutritional value of mother’s milk, which is full of brain-boosting long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
3. Children Stay in School Longer
Children who were breastfed have been found to be more likely to continue their education than children who were not breastfed.
4. Get Better Grades
Not only do breastfed children stay in school at least one full year longer than non-breastfed children, but they also appear to do better while they’re there. According to an article published in the UK’s NHS, a study found that children who were breastfed score higher in math, English and science than their non-breastfed classmates.
5. Leads to Higher Incomes
Adults who were breastfed for one year or more as babies also tended to have higher incomes than those who were breastfed for a month or less. Their incomes ranked about one-third higher than the average income.
6. Become Healthier Adults
While higher incomes and better jobs are important, they aren’t the only markers of a successful life. Breastfeeding appears to help ensure great results in other equally important areas such as weight and overall health. In fact, one Harvard Medical School study found that breastfed children were 20% less likely to become obese in the future than those who were not breastfed.
Breastmilk’s makeup may be responsible for metabolically “pre-programming” the body against storing fat in the future. Adults who had been breastfed for 3 months or more as babies had 20% lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein linked to heart attacks, strokes and angina, than those who hadn’t.
Length of breastfeeding seems to make a big difference, too. CRP-levels dropped to about 30 % lower in those breastfed for a year or more.
7. Better Long Term Mental Health
Breastfeeding’s benefits aren’t just limited to physical development and academic success, either. It can also play a major part in future mental well-being. An Australian study that followed 2500 West Australian children over 16 years found that those who were breastfed for more than 6 months had a 52 % lower risk of developing a mental health problem. Breastfed babies also grew up to have lower rates of delinquent, depressed and anxious behavior. Breast milk’s natural nutrients appear to prevent mental illness by promoting beneficial early brain development in the first year of life.
Researchers are still unclear about whether the benefits of breastfeeding come from the nutrient-rich breast milk, the development that mother-baby closeness promotes or a combination of both. Whatever the exact reasons, one thing is for sure: The rewards of breastfeeding can last a lifetime.