I often tiptoe around the breastfeeding issue. I don’t want to make a huge deal about the benefits because I obviously don’t think children who grow up on formula are doomed to a life of menial labor and eczema. Breastfeeding is one choice among so many choices mothers make on how to raise their babies, and so I leave mothers to make their own decisions and hope they grant me the same courtesy.
All that being said, I do think breastfeeding is incredible. And when I read studies like the one appearing in JAMAPediatrics today, I give myself a mental pat on the back for having nursed both my daughters.
The Harvard study links breastfeeding and intelligence, showing children scoring higher on IQ tests if they were breastfed. The longer and more exclusively breastfed they were, the higher they scored. Check out the details here.
To be clear, this study links IQ and breastfeeding through association, not cause and effect. It doesn’t necessarily mean breastfeeding makes kids smarter. There are a million other factors that could be at work here such as the socio-economic or genetic background of the mothers who choose to breastfeed.
I believe, however, breast milk is just about as magical an elixir as we could ever find or create. It builds strong minds, strong bodies and a strong bond between mother and child. And studies suggesting I’m doing something right as a mother are few and far between, so I took a moment to congratulate myself on breastfeeding.
After my moment of unabashed mommy pride, I started wondering if studies like this one make other moms feel they have somehow let down their children. I know lots of wonderful mothers who were unable to breastfeed for whatever reason — logistics, medicine or physical inability. The desire was there, but sometimes the need to just get any kind of milk in that newborn’s belly trumps mom’s ideals.
And you know what? Those babies are going to grow up just as happy, smart and healthy as any other baby. There are so many decisions that mothers have to make that will determine who and what their children become. We will likely never even know which decisions were actually good, bad or trivial.
So to moms who breastfeed, I say good job. Keep it up. And to moms who don’t, I say good job. Keep it up. I was lucky to breastfeed both my daughters. It was the right choice for us. I cherish every moment of those years and am sad that I won’t have that experience with our next (fingers crossed) adopted son or daughter. But just like every child, every mothering experience is different. Who knows what will shape or define each child — what will increase their IQ by two points or 50? As long as I love that child and make every decision the best I can in the moment, I’ve done my job — and so has every mother out there.
What are your thoughts on breastfeeding and IQ? How did you decide whether to nurse or not?