We constantly hear that breast is best, but can there be any stone unturned on the topic? Well it appears there is and it’s in connection with feeding on-demand, which is always seen as the preserve of breastfeeding mothers. A fascinating study has shown potentially a link to academic achievement.
Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed for the first two years and exclusively for the first six months. Whilst no one is saying it has to be on demand, any successful breast-feeder will tell you unless it is on demand, as a long-term proposition it’s not sustainable as a method, as the baby’s feeding pattern increases the mother’s milk production.
Let’s face it, how many mothers do we know who have managed to get past the first three months on demand – it’s entirely exhausting. Well kind of – I remember attempting and failing to feed on demand and carry on with the rest of my life, however when I figured out the rest of my life could wait feeding on-demand was entirely manageable. It appears the rewards for perseverance is impressive.
Maria Iacovou and Almudena Sevilla-Sanz of the University of Essex been researching the effect of on demand feeding on children’s cognitive development. The research monitored over 10,000 children who were then being educationally tested between the age of five and fourteen years old.
It has always been thought hard to prove increased academic ability as it could be argued that the ‘on-demand mothers’ were also the breast-feeders and were more likely to be of a certain economic and intellectual group, and that the babies by virtue of the hand of cards their mothers have been dealt will fare better anyway. The researchers were mindful to find methods to address this.
In the testgroups three types of mother and babies were paired. ‘those where the baby was fed to schedule at four weeks of age, those where the mother tried but did not manage to feed to a schedule and those who fed on demand.’
Research showed that regardless of whether bottle or breast fed, once a baby was fed on demand that baby seemed to show improved results in traditional school tests to the tune of four to five IQ points.
“To give a sense of the kind of difference that four or five higher IQ points might make, in a class of 30 children, for example, a child who is right in the middle of the class, ranked at 15th, might be, with an improvement of four or five IQ points, ranked higher, at about 11th or 12th in the class.”
“This is significant because the mothers who tried but did not manage to feed to a schedule are similar to schedule-feeding mothers. They tend to be younger, more likely to be single, more likely to be social tenants and likely to be less well-educated or to read to their child. These social characteristics are all understood to increase a child’s likelihood of performing less well. It seems that it is actually having been fed to a schedule, rather than having the type of mother who attempted to feed to a schedule (successfully or not), which makes the difference.”
Clearly this will be the first of many studies on this topic and I’m really interested to see if it is embraced by the NHS in years to come, how new mothers who only wish to bottle feed will be shown how to incorporate on demand feeding.
So when, in the middle of the night, you are woken for the umpteenth time, don’t feel resentful or grumpy, let a little inner glow keep you propped up as you know in years to come you did the right thing. [subscribe2]