A child’s cognitive development is the same at five years old regardless of whether they were breast or bottle fed, a new study has found.
The behaviour, vocabulary level and cognitive ability of 7,478 children in Ireland was measured at age three and five and analysed in relation to whether or not they had been breastfed.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, linked breastfeeding with improved problem solving and reduced hyperactivity in children aged three, but not at the age of five.
No evidence was found that breastfeeding affected vocabulary and other abilities at either age.
Author Lisa-Christine Girard, from University College Dublin, said previous research showing the long-term benefits of breastfeeding may have been affected by socio-economic factors such as the mother’s education and income.
“There’s a certain profile of mothers in developed countries who engage in breastfeeding behaviour,” Dr Girard told The Independent. “So it’s important to tease that apart and understand the direct link, if there is one.”
She said mothers who were more highly educated, better off financially and who engage in less risky prenatal behaviour such as smoking, which can impact on a child’s development, were statistically more likely to breastfeed.
But after the data was randomised, “we didn’t find any statistically significant differences between children who were breastfed and those who weren’t, in terms of their cognitive ability and language,” said Dr Girard.
“We did find direct effect of breastfeeding on a reduction in hyperactive behaviours when the children were three years old. This wasn’t found at five years, suggesting there may be other factors that are more influential as children develop.”