Undersize infants score higher on IQ tests if breast fed exclusively

Full-term infants who are born small score an average of 11 points higher on IQ tests if they are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life compared to those who are given formula or solids early on, according to findings published in the March Acta Paediatrica. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The study is consistent with earlier reports that full-term infants who were of normal size for their age scored 3 points higher on IQ tests at five years of age when breastfed exclusively for the first six months than did infants who either stopped breastfeeding before six months or had supplements such as formula or solids introduced into their diets.

The finding also discredits the widely held belief that supplementary feedings of formula and cereal, in addition to breast milk, will help these smaller infants reach normal size faster than they would on breast milk alone. Ten percent of all births in the United States are small for gestational age (SGA) or less than six pounds when born full term.

"This study provides strong evidence that exclusive breast feeding for the first six months benefits the cognitive development of both small and normal-size infants," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "Also noteworthy is the observation that exclusive breast feeding does not compromise growth."

According to the study's principal investigator, Malla Rao, the researchers evaluated 220 full term SGA children and 299 full-term, appropriate for gestational age (AGA) children. The scientists conducted the study in Norway and Sweden, because mothers in those countries exclusively breast feed their infants for longer durations than women in the United States. The most recent United States statistics from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that while only 21 percent of in

Contact: Bob Bock
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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