London: Doctors have for long said that breastfeeding is good for both mother and child. Now, a study has found that it also makes children more intelligent, mainly the boys.
An international team, led by University of Western Australia, has carried out the study and found breastfeeding helps babies achieve academic success by the age of 10, and the effect is strongest in boys.
According to researchers, there may be substances in breastmilk that help the brain develop. This effect may be more pronounced in boys because they lack the female hormones which are known to protect the brain.
Boys are more responsive to maternal attention when learning which could explain why breastfeeding had a greater effect on them, the researchers said.
"The positive effect of predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer on academic achievement can be viewed as shifting the mean population score upward, particularly for the boys.
"Our study adds to growing evidence that breastfeeding for at least six months has beneficial effects on optimal child development. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed for six months and beyond," lead author Wendy Oddy was quoted by a newspaper as saying.
Some 1,000 children were involved in the study and were followed from when their mothers were 18 weeks pregnant until they reached ten years of age when they were assessed using standard maths, reading, writing and spelling scores.
The authors adjusted for other factors that could influence educational attainment, including mother`s education and household income. However they could not fully account for mother`s intelligence.
"By looking at boys and girls independently, we found that predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer was significantly associated with increased mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling scores for boys, but no effect of breastfeeding was apparent on the educational attainment of girls for any subject.
"We found significant interactions for mathematics and spelling revealing that boys were more likely than girls to have improved academic scores if they were breastfed for a longer period.
"On average, boys had poorer numeracy and literacy scores than girls; however, the scores were improved if the child was breastfed for six months or longer," the study said.
The findings have been published in the latest edition of the `Pediatrics` journal.