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Children who were breastfed for 12 months or longer scored higher on standardized intelligence tests – even in their teens, according to a new study. These findings held true even after considering other factors that might influence intelligence.

Researchers asked the mothers of more than 7,800 children living in the United Kingdom how long they breastfed their children. They collected information about each mother’s socioeconomic status and cognitive abilities and administered standardized intelligence tests to the children at the ages of 5, 7, 11, and 14 years.

They found that across the board, longer-duration breastfeeding – 12 months or more – improved children’s performance on intelligence tests at all ages, even up to the age of 14 years. After considering factors that might influence the children’s cognitive performance, such as the mother’s socioeconomic status or intelligence, the researchers found that compared to non-breastfed children, children who were breastfed for longer periods performed modestly higher on intelligence tests from early childhood into their teen years.

Breastfeeding is the biologically superior way to feed an infant. Evidence suggests that breastfeeding has profound effects on the developing infant’s brain, promoting increases in white matter volume, especially in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional regulation, and cognition.

This study’s findings suggest that breastfeeding for longer duration influences an infant’s cognitive performance later in life. Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding in our overview article.

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