Newswise — A study published online in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that extended breastfeeding may correlate with marginally improved academic performance in 16-year-old students, when compared to their non-breastfed counterparts.
Despite accounting for factors such as socio-economic status and parental intelligence, the evidence of enhanced educational achievements remains evident in individuals who were breastfed for an extended period.
While previous studies have indicated a positive correlation between extended breastfeeding and improved educational outcomes in later life, it is important to note that such studies are limited in number. Additionally, many of these studies have not adequately considered potential influencing factors. For instance, they often fail to account for the fact that mothers with higher socio-economic status or higher intelligence scores are more inclined to breastfeed their children for longer durations, which in turn can contribute to their children's higher exam results.
To examine this matter further, a group of researchers from the University of Oxford conducted an analysis using data from the Millennium Cohort Study. This study encompassed a substantial sample size of 18,818 children born between 2000 and 2002 in the United Kingdom. The participants were followed up at various ages, including 3, 5, 7, 11, 14, 17, and 22, allowing for a comprehensive investigation of the topic.
This data was linked to the National Pupil Dataset, which stores longitudinal academic data of students enrolled in English state schools.
In this new study, the researchers focused on a nationally representative cohort of 4,940 participants from England, tracking their progress until the age of 16. The main objective was to investigate the participants' performance in secondary education standardised exams, particularly the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSEs) in English and Mathematics. Furthermore, the researchers analyzed the Attainment 8 score, which represents the cumulative results of all the GCSEs taken by the children.
Among the participants, approximately one-third (32.8%) had never been breastfed, while the remaining two-thirds had varying durations of breastfeeding. Interestingly, only a small percentage, specifically 9.5% of the participants, were breastfed for a minimum of 12 months.
Analysis of the results showed that longer breastfeeding was associated with better educational outcomes.
Among the children who were breastfed for at least 12 months, a noteworthy finding was that only around a fifth (19.2%) failed their English GCSE. In contrast, a significantly higher percentage of those who were never breastfed (41.7%) did not meet the required standard. Additionally, among the children breastfed for at least 12 months, 28.5% achieved a high pass (A and A*) in their English GCSE, whereas only 9.6% of the non-breastfed children attained the same level of success. These results highlight the potential positive impact of extended breastfeeding on English GCSE performance.
Regarding the Mathematics GCSE, the study found that among children breastfed for at least 12 months, a significantly lower proportion (23.7%) failed their test. In comparison, a higher percentage (41.9%) of those who were never breastfed did not meet the required standard. Moreover, among the children breastfed for at least 12 months, 31.4% achieved a high pass (A and A*) in their Mathematics GCSE, while only 11% of the non-breastfed children attained the same level of accomplishment. These results suggest a potential association between extended breastfeeding and improved performance in the Mathematics GCSE.
Upon carefully considering and adjusting for confounding factors, the overall association revealed that children who were breastfed for at least 12 months had a 39% higher likelihood of achieving a high pass in both the English and Mathematics exams compared to children who were never breastfed. Additionally, these children were 25% less likely to fail the English exam specifically. These findings suggest a significant positive correlation between extended breastfeeding and improved academic performance, even when accounting for potential influencing factors.
Additionally, those breastfed for longer had a better overall performance in their GCSEs (higher Attainment 8 score) than those never breastfed.
The study does have certain limitations that should be acknowledged. Firstly, due to lost follow-up or lack of consent, it was not feasible to link the National Pupil Dataset for around 4,000 children. Furthermore, an additional 1,292 children were not followed up until the age of 14 when maternal cognitive ability was measured. These limitations may have impacted the ability to obtain comprehensive data and could potentially introduce biases or reduce the generalizability of the findings. It is important to consider these limitations when interpreting the results of the study.
Additionally, other factors that could potentially influence the association were not considered.
However, the researchers stated that their results were representative on a national scale for children attending state schools in England, and the extensive sample size enabled them to identify variations in outcomes across multiple breastfeeding duration categories.
“Future studies should adjust for both socioeconomic circumstances (comprehensively) and maternal general intelligence.”
MEDIA CONTACTRegister for reporter access to contact details
Archives of Disease in Childhood