Breast-Feeding Boosts Chances Of Success, Study In Brazil Finds : Goats and Soda A study that followed more than 3,000 babies into adulthood found those who were breast-fed had slightly higher IQ test scores, stayed in school longer and earned more money as adults.
NPR logo

Breast-Feeding Boosts Chances Of Success, Study In Brazil Finds

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/393366708/393748264" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Breast-Feeding Boosts Chances Of Success, Study In Brazil Finds

Breast-Feeding Boosts Chances Of Success, Study In Brazil Finds

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/393366708/393748264" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Babies who are breast-fed tend to be more successful in life. That's the provocative suggestion of a new study being published this week in The Lancet Global Health. The study took place in Brazil, where researchers say breast-feeding rates didn't vary much between women of different economic classes. NPR's health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Doctors have long known that breast-feeding is good for a baby's health. But Bernardo Horta of the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil says there's a lot of debate about just how much of a difference breast-feeding makes in a child's life. So Horta and his colleagues took a look at more than 3,000 babies they've been following since they were born. They're now in their 30s. First, they gave them IQ tests.

BERNARDO HORTA: The subjects who were breast-fed for 12 months or more had a higher IQ than those who were breast-fed for less than one month. The difference in IQ was 3.76 points.

STEIN: That may not sound like a lot, but Horta and his colleagues didn't stop there. They also looked at how much education they'd gotten and how much money they were making.

HORTA: We also observed that they had a higher education, as well as a higher monthly income.

STEIN: They earned about a third more than those who got little or no breast-feeding as babies.

HORTA: Breast-feeding is - not only has short-term benefits, but also breast-feeding has long-term benefits, improving the performance and intelligence in adulthood, as well as the income - OK? - the economic productivity.

STEIN: Other researchers praise the study.

RUTH LAWRENCE: I think it's a remarkable study, actually.

STEIN: Ruth Lawrence is a professor of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester.

LAWRENCE: This proves the permanency of these effects, which are very important, I think, to establish the critical impact of breast-feeding on a child's potential. And it gets into, you know, what are you going to do for the rest of your life, and how much money are you going to make doing it?

STEIN: But other researchers are more cautious. Valerie Flaherman of the University of California in San Francisco says lots of factors influence intelligence and success in life.

VALERIE FLAHERMAN: There's the potential for people to think if you don't breast-feed, your baby will be stupid or mentally impaired or something like that. While it's a potential benefit, it's one factor among many that mothers should consider in their decision.

STEIN: Many women can't breast-feed for physical reasons or because they have to go back to work. And Flaherman worries that women are already being stigmatized if they use formula.

FLAHERMAN: I do worry that sometimes when mothers hear about projects like this, they feel guilty when they were not able to breast-feed their babies. And what I hear from some of my mothers is that, you know, if they are giving their baby a bottle in Starbucks or on the bus or something, they feel like people are giving them dirty looks or saying they should be breast-feeding. So I think that can be a problem for mothers and babies.

STEIN: Horta and Lawrence agree that babies raised on formula can turn out to be just fine, but they say everything should be done to help women breast-feed if they can. Rob Stein, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.