Breastfeeding for longer may be linked to better exam results

Babies breastfed for at least 12 months more likely to score higher marks at age 16, according to fresh research

Children who are breastfed for longer do better in exams, new research suggests.

With the Leaving and Junior Cert due to start on Wednesday, a British study suggests part of the education die may be cast long before exam week. Babies who were breastfed for at least 12 months were more likely to score slightly higher marks at age 16, the researchers found.

The evidence of modestly improved educational outcomes was still apparent even when people’s socio-economic status, their parents’ intelligence and other factors were taken into account.

While previous studies have found children breastfed for longer have improved education outcomes later in life, most did not take into account the potential impact of mothers who were better off or had higher intelligence scores and were more likely to breastfeed and have children who get higher results in exams.

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The researchers analysed data on almost 19,000 British children born between 2000 and 2002 and who have been followed up at regular intervals since they were born. From this group, they isolated a sample of almost 5,000 children, looking specifically at their GSCE results in English and Maths, as well as their overall attainment score. GSCEs are roughly equivalent to Ireland’s Junior Cert.

About one-third of the participants were never breastfed, and the remainder were breastfed for different periods. Only 9.5 per cent were breastfed for at least 12 months.

Analysis of the results showed longer breastfeeding was associated with better educational outcomes among 16-year-old GCSE candidates in England.

Only one-fifth of children who were breastfed for at least 12 months failed their English exam, compared with 42 per cent of those who were never breastfed. The high pass rate (highest grades — A and A*) for children breastfed longer was 28.5 per cent, compared with 10 per cent among non-breastfed children.

For maths, 24 per cent of the longer breastfed children failed the GCSE exam, compared with 42 per cent of those never breastfed. The longer breastfed children were almost three times more likely to get a high pass.

Children breastfed for at least 12 months were 39 per cent more likely to have a high pass for both exams and were 25 per cent less likely to fail the English exam after confounding factors were taken into account.

Those breastfed for longer had a better overall performance in their GCSEs than those never breastfed.

“However, the effect sizes were modest and may be susceptible to residual confounding,” the authors state. “Breastfeeding should continue to be encouraged, when possible, as potential improvements in academic achievement constitute only one of its potential benefits. Future studies should adjust for both socioeconomic circumstances [comprehensively] and maternal general intelligence.”

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