London: The babies who are fed when they are hungry tend to have higher IQ and achieve better test scores at school than those who are fed on schedule – although they do take a toll on their mothers, a new study has revealed.
The study revealed that demand-fed babies– with breast milk or formula – attain higher scores in Sats tests at ages five, seven, 11 and 14, and that by the age of eight they have an IQ four to five points higher.
However, mothers who stick to scheduled feeding times score better on wellbeing measures, and report feeling more confident and less tearful.
Researchers from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex and Oxford University consider themselves to be the first to conduct a large-scale study into the effects of scheduled versus on-demand feeding.
The research used a sample of 10,419 children born in the early 1990s, and took into consideration different background factors, including parental educational levels, family income, a child’s sex and age, maternal health and parenting styles.
“The difference between schedule and demand-fed children is found both in breast-fed and in bottle-fed babies,” the Guardian quoted Dr Maria Iacovou, from the ISER, who led the research, as saying.
“The difference in IQ levels of around four to five points, though statistically highly significant, would not make a child at the bottom of the class move to the top, but it would be noticeable.
“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.”
The study contrasted babies fed to a schedule at four weeks of age with those whose mothers tried but did not manage to feed to a schedule, and with those who were fed on demand.
The children of mothers who had attempted but failed to feed to a schedule were found to have similar higher levels of accomplishment in Sat tests and IQ scores as demand-fed babies.
“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,” Iacovou said.
“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,” Iacovou added.