Feeding babies on demand boosts their IQ later in life, research suggests

Baby feeding19 March 2012

We may just have celebrated Mothers Day, but here are some news to cheer babies rather than mums: Milk can potentially boost babies' IQ later in life - provided that they are fed on demand, rather than at specific times. An ESRC-funded study investigating the long-term outcomes of babies being fed on schedule versus on demand has revealed that babies who are fed on demand perform academically better during childhood than their schedule-fed peers.

The IQ scores of eight-year-old children who had been demand-fed as babies – either from breast or bottle - were between four and five points higher than the scores of schedule-fed children. Scores were based on the results of IQ tests and school-based SATs tests carried out between the ages of five and 14.

The ESRC-funded project, The effects of breastfeeding on children, mothers and employers led by Dr Emilia Del Bono, explored the relationship between breastfeeding and different outcomes for the babies and mothers - including child development, maternal rates of postnatal depression, and mother's return to work. In this particular case, however, both breast and bottle milk were linked to the IQ effect - as long as they were given on demand.

"At this stage, we must be very cautious about claiming a causal link between feeding patterns and IQ. We cannot definitively say why these differences occur, although we do have a range of hypotheses," cautions co-researcher Dr Maria Iacovou from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) in a press release.

In other words, although an intriguing correlation has been found, it is too early to conclusively say that feeding on demand is the cause.

"The difference in IQ levels of around four to five points, though statistically highly significant, would not make a child at the bottom of the class move to the top, but it would be noticeable," Dr Iacovou adds.

The research is based on data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a child development study of more than 10,000 children born in the early 1990s in the Bristol area.