Breastfed babies earn more money, score higher on IQ tests as adults
Babies who are breastfed for a year or more also go to school longer
"The longer time of breast feeding duration - the higher an effect," said Dr. Bernardo Horta from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. "Even for the group that breast fed for three to five months the difference is already statistically significant."
The study looked at 3,493 babies born in five maternity hospitals in Pelotas in 1982.
The babies who were breastfed for a year or more scored 3.76 points higher on an IQ test, went to school for almost a year longer and earned 341 Brazilian reals more a month (about $163.80 Canadian in 2012).
"Breast milk is an important source of an important nutrient for brain development," said Horta.
Winnipeg mom Amanda Kroeger combines breastfeeding with solid food for her 16-month-old daughter Madelyn.
"I like to refer to it as liquid gold," said Kroeger of breast milk. "I knew how important it was for her."
Kroeger said she wanted to breastfeed because of the health benefits and mother-child bonding that comes with it.
The information in this latest study is a bonus.
"The most important thing to me was setting her up from newborn just to be as happy and healthy as she can in her lifetime," Kroeger said. "I want her to be happy and successful whether that means being a millionaire or being an entrepreneur or whatever path she chooses."
The study noted already-known short-term benefits of breastfeeding, such as reducing mortality from infectious diseases. It also pointed to previous studies which showed higher IQ test scores in children and adolescents.
According to Statistics Canada, 89 per cent of Canadian mothers breastfed their babies in 2011-12, although only 26 per cent breastfed exclusively to six months, which is the recommended World Health Organization and Health Canada guideline.
Dr. Jack Newman, a pediatrician specializing in breastfeeding in North York, Ont., said women are less likely to breastfeed if they are poorer and less educated. He said they may have difficulty standing up for themselves in the medical system.
"Generally if a mother is better educated, if the mother is more affluent, if she has a supportive partner, if she's also older, then she is much more likely to breastfeed," said Newman.
Newman says this latest study points to a need for better education about breastfeeding both for families and medical professionals.
"It doesn't help that doctor, that pediatrician, when the mother comes and says 'my nipples are sore, what do I do?' and the only answer they have is well, just give the baby formula," said Newman.
However, Horta's study said there is no clear social pattern in Brazil about which mothers breastfeed. It said research in higher-income countries is sometimes criticized because mothers with a higher socio-economic position tend to breastfeed longer, which could skew results.
Still, Horta admits one issue that is not yet settled is how much influence mother-child bonding plays.
"One of the issues we have not answered is how much is by the nutrients [of breast milk] and how much is by psychological well-being or psychological child-mother bonding?" he said.
With files from Cameron MacIntosh