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Boys Who Breastfed May Be Better in Math, Reading


Children who are breastfed apparently can benefit by more than having a robust immune system. A new study from the University of Western Australia found that longer periods of breastfeeding are associated with better math and reading skills in boys.

Breastfed boys do better in math and language skills

The researchers set out to evaluate the relationship between how long a mother breastfeeds her child and the child’s educational status in middle childhood. A total of 2,900 women were enrolled and 2,868 children were followed prospectively. When the children reached 10 years of age, the investigators evaluated results of standardized scores on math, reading, writing, and spelling for 1,038 children.

Overall, academic scores for the ten-year-old children who had been breastfed for six months or longer were higher than among children who had been breastfed for less than six months. Boys, but not girls, were especially better in math, spelling, writing, and reading.

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The researchers have speculated as to why boys but not girls seem to enjoy this educational benefit from breastfeeding. One suggestion is that boys respond more to their mothers’ attention when learning, which could explain why breastfeeding has a greater impact on them. The difference in academic response also could be related to hormonal differences between boys and girls.

This study, and others, adds to the ample evidence that breastfeeding for at least six months, and preferably longer, benefits children in several ways. Breastfed infants have a reduced risk of lower respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, and asthma, as well as a lower risk of childhood leukemia, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, and high cholesterol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in its 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card that more than 75 percent of infants born in 2007 started life breastfeeding. By age six months, however, less than 43 percent were still being breastfed, and by 12 months, the number drops to 22 percent.

Dr. Wendy Oddy, from the Centre for Child Health Research at University of Western Australia and the study’s lead author, noted that “our study adds to growing evidence that breastfeeding for at least six months has beneficial effects on optimal child development.” While breastfed boys may perform better in math and reading, all children reap multiple benefits from six months or longer of breastfeeding.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Oddy WH et al. Pediatrics 2010 Dec 20; doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-3489