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Breastfeeding Boosts Brainpower

Like many of her peers in the early 1960s (okay, it was 1960), my mom didn't even consider breastfeeding; for her (meaning, for me), it was bottles all the way. And I guess I turned out okay, brainpower-wise.

But just think how smart I could have been if she'd nursed me!

A new study, the largest ever of its kind, shows that exclusive breastfeeding for three or more months is tied to higher IQ scores and teacher-evaluated performance in reading, writing, math, and other subjects down the road. (The babies in the study underwent the IQ and other testing when they were 6 1/2 years old.) The association between breastfeeding and improved cognitive ability had been long suspected and researched through observational studies; the new research is the first to examine the connection through a big, randomized trial.

And a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that more and more women are opting to breastfeed.

That bodes well for the future. But it's not to say, of course, that breastfeeding is the only option. I have known women for whom the discomfort of nursing was severe enough to cut that little experiment short. And some women just feel squeamish about the whole thing.

But many women who would like to nurse for the kind of prolonged period in the IQ study find it hard to maintain exclusive breastfeeding after they return to work. I will never forget the logistics and embarrassment associated with using a breast pump in the office -- and I worked in a very mom- and nursing-friendly place. Check out tomorrow's Health section for an article about the challenges women in D.C. face in trying to find private, clean spaces to express milk, despite the D.C. Council's December 2007 law requiring employers to provide such spaces.

Also coming tomorrow, in the On Parenting blog: three Post reporters review a new hands-free breast pump. Can't wait to see what they say!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 12, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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