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Breastfeeding is an amazing, incredible way for mothers to nourish and bond with our babies. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding (that's why the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend it) but higher intelligence is probably not one of them.


According to a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16.

This is important because when the benefits of breastfeeding (though considerable) are overstated, moms who can't or choose not to nurse their babies can feel guilty about feeding formula, and no mother should feel guilty about doing what is right for herself and her baby.

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The new study is a follow-up of the often-cited Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT) study, a randomized trial in the Republic of Belarus. The PROBIT study saw newborns randomly assigned to one of two programs: One was designed to promote exclusive and extended breastfeeding, the other provided the usual postnatal care. During the first year of life pediatricians assess the breastfeeding habits of mother-child pairs six times, and when the children were again assessed at 6.5 years old, researchers found those assigned to the breastfeeding promotion group had higher IQ scores.

In the follow-up study just published, the researchers tested the kids again at age 16 and found no benefit on overall neurocognitive function when the breastfeeding group was compared to the control. There was a beneficial effect on verbal function, but the researchers note that while this is consistent with the results observed a decade earlier, "the effect size was substantially smaller in adolescence."

According to the study's authors, these results indicate "that long-term effects of breastfeeding on neurocognitive development decrease in magnitude with advancing age, and the persistent benefit seems to be limited to verbal function."

Basically, by the time kids are 16, there's no overall IQ difference between those who were breastfed and those who weren't, according to the study.

This is in contrast to a 2015 study published in The Lancet, which concluded "breastfeeding is associated with improved performance in intelligence tests 30 years later, and might have an important effect in real life, by increasing educational attainment and income in adulthood."

As a cohort study that research is, in scientific terms, not as the reliable as a randomized control study. The PROBIT study is the largest randomized controlled trial on human lactation, this is important because, as the New York Times notes, this is "a more rigorous type of study that better controls for socioeconomic and family variables."

Historically, such variables have been an issue in studies of breastfeeding impact on intelligence, as many of the studies were observational in nature. That's a problem, because in some populations, mothers who breastfeed for longer are more likely to be wealthier, better educated and score higher on IQ tests themselves. This makes it hard to tell whether it is the breastfeeding, or other factors that are helping boost kids' IQ test results.

As the authors of a critical review of breastfeeding studies published in the journal Pediatrics put it, "Although the majority of studies concluded that breastfeeding promotes intelligence, the evidence from higher quality studies is less persuasive."

An observational study out of Ireland published in the journal Pediatrics last year addressed this issue using "propensity score matching," a statistical technique designed to "remove potential bias from observed confounders in correlational studies." That study, while not as well controlled as PROBIT, found infants who are breastfed do not have better cognitive skills by kindergarten than those who were fed formula.

Bottom line: If a mother wants to breastfeed to bond with her child, boost their immunity and and impart other benefits, that's great, but if she's can't or doesn't want to, feeding formula is not going to be what makes or break her child's future SAT scores.

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Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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