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Brains and Wealth Start With Breastfeeding, Study Finds

ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Updated
March 2, 2017
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Image: Getty

Not sure when to pull the breaks on breastfeeding? The longer the duration, the stronger the longterm benefits for baby, a new Brazilian study found.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, linked longer breastfeeding — up to 12 months — to longer schooling, higher adult earning, and increased adult intelligence. And the study was a big undertaking. Researchers followed nearly 3500 newborns for 30 years.

“What is unique about this study is the fact that, in the population we studied, breastfeeding was not more common among highly educated, high-income women, but was evenly distributed by social class,” says Bernardo Lessa Horta, MD, explaining that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be tied to socioeconomic advantage to have longterm benefits.

What exactly are those benefits? Compared to infants who breastfed for one month, those who were breastfed for at least a year gained four IQ points, had nearly a year more schooling, and earned a higher income (up to 341 reais, or 104 dollars per month) by age 30.

Horta credits the long-chain saturated fatty acids (DHAs) found in breast milk, which are essential for brain development, for these longterm benefits.

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