The Big Question: Where do the latest findings leave the debate on breast-feeding?

Why are we asking this now?

Just when you thought scientists had made their minds up on a topic – from life on Mars to the health dangers of bacon butties – another study comes along to upset the consensus. This week researchers reported that breastfeeding babies boosted their IQs by seven points. However, this only occurs in those babies who have inherited a particular gene called FADS2, they found. Fortunately nine out of 10 children have the necessary gene. For the one in 10 who don't, breast feeding makes no difference to intelligence. Bottle feeding, in this regard, is equally good.

Is this the last word on the subject?

Unlikely. The link between breast feeding and intelligence has been debated since 1929 when the first paper on the subject was published. We thought we had heard the last word a year ago when the largest scientific study of the supposed link concluded that breast-fed babies were indeed smarter – but not because of the milk they were fed.

Instead the researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, said they were smarter because their mothers were. Women who breast-fed tended to be more intelligent and more highly educated, and provided more stimulation for their babies at home. The higher IQ of their babies was mostly inherited, accounting for 75 per cent of the difference. The rest of the difference was due to their environment – breast-fed babies had mothers who were older, better educated and lived in nicer homes where they received more attention.

Terrie and Abshalom Moffit, the husband and wife team who published this week's study based on 3,000 children in the UK and New Zealand, said they had corrected for these factors – and they still found a seven-point IQ difference.

Source - Independent

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