It’s not breaking news that breastfeeding increases intelligence, as it is the perfect food for our perfect babes. The debate often revolves around how much breastfeeding is best. Western mothers who breastfeed into the toddler and preschool years (and sometimes kindergarten) are often viewed by the media as freaks or “extreme“, when throughout the world (and human history) this is the norm. Now there’s evidence long term breastfeeding promotes brain growth.
Longer breast-feeding may be associated with more brain growth in babies, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Studying nearly 130 mammal species, researchers found that the longer the pregnancy and the longer the breast-feeding period, the bigger the babies brain would grow.
How long is long term? Researchers studied 128 mammal species, not just humans, and the magic number for homo sapiens is nine months in utero and three years of breastfeeding. I like how the scientists dub pregnancy and breastfeeding as time and energy that mothers “invest” in their children.
Science Daily reports:
The Durham University research concludes that the longer the pregnancy and breastfeeding period in mammals, the bigger the baby’s brain grows.
The researchers say the findings reinforce the suggestion that breast is best for brain development and add further weight to the World Health Organisation’s advice of six months’ exclusive breastfeeding followed by continuing breastfeeding up to the age of two or beyond supplemented with solid foods.
The study, published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps to explain why humans, who suckle their babies for up to three years in addition to their nine-month pregnancies, have such a long period of dependency as this is necessary to support the growth of our enormous 1300cc brains.
In comparison, species such as fallow deer, which are about the same body weight as humans, are only pregnant for seven months with a suckling period of up to six months, resulting in brains of only 220cc, six times smaller than the human brain.
A bigger brain doesn’t necessarily equate to higher intelligence, but if our children are going to reach their full potential, they need the motherly investment to make it happen. I honestly wish I would have read this research before weaning my kids at two and half years of age. I would have stuck it out another six months. Science Daily continues:
They found that brain size relative to body size was most closely linked to maternal investment — the amount of time a mother spends carrying her offspring in pregnancy and how long she continues to breastfeed. The study shows that length of the pregnancy determines brain size at birth and the period of lactation decides brain growth after birth.