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comment analysis

today Wednesday 4 July 2012

19

comment analysis

today Wednesday 4 July 2012

According to the authors, the reason for the correlation between breast-feeding and intelligence is in the mothers brain, not her breast. PhOTO REUTERS

attaCHMent PaRentInG

Why breast-feeding wont make kids smarter


SAM WANG AND SANDRA AAMODT

dvocates of so-called attachment parenting take an all-encompassing approach: Assiduous attention to a childs every need, including prolonged breast-feeding. But those who claim that these practices benefit childrens intelligence miss an important point.

A childs biggest advantage arises from having the family resources that make such care-giving possible in the first place. In this sense, attachment parenting is a trend among families whose children need it least the affluent. Fortunately, there is a way for parents of lesser means to get similar benefits. Attachment parenting has not yet been subjected to rigorous scientific study. It is not known, for example, if it makes kids more independent or

Sam Wang, an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Neuroscience at Princeton University, and Sandra Aamodt, a former Editorin-Chief of Nature Neuroscience, are authors of Welcome to Your Childs Brain.

secure. But one claim has been thoroughly investigated: That breastfeeding increases a childs IQ. Even many mothers who return to work believe their breast milk to be essential to their babies future intellect. Research shows that this is a myth. Although it is true that children who were breast-fed as babies have higher intelligence than bottle-fed children, the reason for the correlation is in the mothers brain, not her breast.

Of course, breastfeeding is a healthy thing to do. It enhances the babys immune system, and builds a bond with mum.
PASSING SMART GENES

Intelligent parents pass along their genes and also create a more stimulating environment, two advantages for the babys development. In short, smart mothers have smart babies. In one analysis of multiple studies, combining data from more than 5,000 children, the IQ differences associated with breast-feeding were eliminated when the mothers characteristics were taken into account. Among 332 pairs of siblings in which one was breast-fed and the other bottle-fed, researchers also found no difference in IQ. So, mothers who are unable to breast-feed need not worry that they are harming their babys intellectual development. Indeed, adopted children, many of whom are not breastfed, have higher IQs, on average, than their siblings who remain in the birth family, presumably because their adoptive families provide an environment better suited to cognitive development. A key factor in development is the familys socio-economic status a combined measure of income, occupation and education. The possible effect of environment can be measured by comparing differences within the same household in outcomes between identical twins, who share all their DNA, with those between fraternal twins, who share half their DNA.
ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCE

There is no One True Way to be a mother, as humans have been raising children successfully under a variety of circumstances for thousands of years. Putting pressure on women to adhere to a particular set of practices that may not fit their lives is likely to be counter-productive.
High-status children recover from lead poisoning better than low-status children do. For these reasons, efforts to encourage young mothers to breastfeed should take into account their economic circumstances. Working mothers, already strapped by the expenses of new parenthood, cannot necessarily afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for a breast pump and accessories. The next barrier comes at work, where pumping requires a private room with an electrical outlet. One woman we know, a phlebotomist, could not find a regular place or time to pump until her baby was more than three months old, too late for the mother to begin lactating. In contrast, a physician who gave birth around the same time regularly caught up on work at her computer while using an electric breast pump in her private office. Of course, breast-feeding is a healthy thing to do. It enhances the babys immune system, and builds a bond with mum. But social pressure on mothers may itself be harmful to children. Stress hormones can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy and nursing.
NO ONE TRUE WAY

In the United States, a mother whose IQ is 15 points higher than her neighbours is more than twice as likely to breastfeed. Women who breast-feed are more educated and less likely to smoke.

In middle-class households, identical twins have more similar outcomes than fraternal twins have, suggesting that environmental influences have a smaller impact than genetics on the growth of childrens intelligence. It seems that most middle-class environments are good enough to allow most children to approach their full genetic potential. For children growing up in households of low socio-economic status, on the other hand, good parenting is crucial. In one recent study, parents IQ influenced the childs IQ at two years of age but not if the household was low-status. In seven-year-olds, only 10 per cent of IQ variability in low-status children was attributable to genes. In other words, a poor environment can wipe out genetic advantages. Low social status often means economic insecurity, unsafe neighbourhoods and chaotic households. And it means increased secretion of stress hormones. At age 10, low-status children have twice as much stress hormone in their blood as high-status children do. Chronic stress reduces the volume of the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning, and leads to memory problems. It also interferes with development of the frontal cortex, which is important for planning and organising behaviour and for self-control.
SOCIAL PRESSURES ON MUMS

The influence of social environment can even outweigh physical hazards:

Even in families of modest means, effective strategies are available to help a babys brain grow. Babies learn best from communicating with other people, especially with those who respond to them promptly and appropriately. Support programmes that train mothers to be more responsive to their babies lead to improved cognitive development. An analysis of multiple studies involving 900 mother-infant pairs showed that short-term behavioural training for mothers to enhance sensitivity also made children more likely to form a secure attachment to the mother, a major goal of attachment parenting. Such interventions are especially effective for mothers of fussy infants. There is no One True Way to be a mother, as humans have been raising children successfully under a variety of circumstances for thousands of years. Putting pressure on women to adhere to a particular set of practices that may not fit their lives is likely to be counter-productive. Societal support, on the other hand, including support for breastfeeding where possible, can help all parents to help their children grow up well. BLOOMBERG