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, 109 (6), 1044-53

How Good Is the Evidence Linking Breastfeeding and Intelligence?


How Good Is the Evidence Linking Breastfeeding and Intelligence?

Anjali Jain et al. Pediatrics.


Background: We conducted a critical review of the many studies that have tried to determine whether breastfeeding has a beneficial effect on intellect.

Design/methods: By searching Medline and the references of selected articles, we identified publications that evaluated the association between breastfeeding and cognitive outcomes. We then appraised and described each study according to 8 principles of clinical epidemiology: 1) study design, 2) target population: whether full-term infants were studied, 3) sample size, 4) collection of feeding data: whether studies met 4 standards of quality- suitable definition and duration of breastfeeding, and appropriate timing and source of feeding data, 5) control of susceptibility bias: whether studies controlled for socioeconomic status and stimulation of the child, 6) blinding: whether observers of the outcome were blind to feeding status, 7) outcome: whether a standardized individual test of general intelligence at an age older than 2 years was used, and 8) format of results: whether studies reported an effect size or some other strategy to interpret the clinical impact of results.

Results: We identified 40 pertinent publications from 1929 to February 2001. Twenty-seven (68%) concluded that breastfeeding promotes intelligence. Many studies, however, had methodological flaws. Only 2 papers studied full-term infants and met all 4 standards of high-quality feeding data, controlled for 2 critical confounders, reported blinding, used an appropriate test, and allowed the reader to interpret the clinical significance of the findings with an effect size. Of these 2, 1 study concluded that the effect of breastfeeding on intellect was significant, and the other did not.

Conclusion: Although the majority of studies concluded that breastfeeding promotes intelligence, the evidence from higher quality studies is less persuasive.

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