Monday, May 26, 2008

A Dad's Argument in Favor of Breastfeeding

In addition to being a father of eight, I am also a huge proponent of breast-feeding. Not for all of the obvious physical changes in my spouse. Not for the money we saved on formula. Not because I got to sleep through the night as often times I was the one who went to get the baby and then was nudged awake with a foot in the back to tell me it was time to return the baby to the crib.

Groups such as the La Leche League have argued for years about the benefits a child receives from breastfeeding. Recent research tells us that babies who breast-feed for a prolonged period of time score higher in intelligence tests.The Archives of General Psychiatry reported on a study of the breastfeeding habits of more than fifteen thousand mother-infant pairs. The control group on which they report received standard care and information regarding breastfeeding. The sample group of 8,457 mother-infant pairs received “extensive breast-feeding education.”

At three months of age, seventy-three (73) percent of the mothers who had received the additional breast-feeding training were still nursing as opposed to only sixty (60) percent of the control group. By six months of age both groups had experienced significant drops in the exclusivity of breast-feeding to seven point nine (7.9) percent for the trained group and less than one (1) percent for the control group.

Now here is the surprise: the study showed that at six and one-half years of age, the children who breast-fed longer scored “significantly higher” in vocabulary, word matching and verbal IQ than the control group. The study was not able to determine what aspect of breast-feeding caused the increase only that these children exhibited higher levels of intelligence. The specific aspect of breastfeeding that was so beneficial was not able to be articulated, but factors such as breast milk composition and time spent being held by and bonding with the mother are possible contributors.

How about another argument in favor of breast-feeding - this time for a mother’s health? A Swedish study also quoted in the New York Times suggests that women can reduce their risk of arthritis by more than 50% by breast-feeding. The researchers write that the benefits may come as a result of long-term changes in the mother’s immune system induced by breast-feeding.

So let’s hold those kids more and nourish them with their mother’s milk. Dads – change the diaper and burp the baby and support mom if she struggles with breastfeeding. You’ll wind up with not only a healthier and smarter child but also a healthier mother of your child.

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