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Breastfeeding might not be as beneficial for your baby's intelligence, after all.

Breastfeeding: the spiky topic that continues to divide and conquer in the world of new mums.

As ‘breast is best’ advocates face off with bottle-fed bubs, the world of science is desperately trying to keep up with the debate, offering as much impartial advice as possible to stop each party from clawing each other’s eyes out.

But a new study from the Journal of Paediatrics is sure to make waves with their finding that breastfeeding doesn’t actually have any long-term benefits for the child.

Breastfeeding advocates have long maintained that breast milk is the key to a healthier baby. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria, and reduces the instances of asthma, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and diarrhea. It’s is also claimed to improve problem solving skills and reduce hyperactivity. And yes – all of that is true.

But after studying 7,478 babies from Ireland, the doctors found that the differences between breastfed and bottle-fed babies became negligible by the age of five.

breastfeeding or formula
The findings suggest breastfeeding doesn’t actually have any long-term benefits for the child. (Image: iStock)
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The Irish children surveyed were born full term, and studied from the time they were nine months old. They were then evaluated again at three years, and once more at five years of age. At both evaluations, the parents were asked to complete questionnaires that addressed their baby’s vocabulary and problem solving abilities. By the time the child was five years old, the differences were much smaller.

The report is sure to come as a shock to many, with the bulk of medical literature advising new mums on the long-term health benefits of breastmilk as opposed to formula.

For example, a 2015 Brazilian study that was published in the Lancet Global Health journal claimed that those who had been breastfed proved to be more intelligent. Of the 6000 babies they studied from 1982 to 2015, those who had been breastfed spent longer at school and earned more than those who had not been. And the longer they were breastfed as a baby, the better they tended to be doing.

The breastfeeding debate has intensified in recent years, with advocates from each camp battling for media space to push their beliefs. Those caught in the middle - new mums - are now struggling to reconcile what’s right for their babies, with what they are physically capable of. Some women’s circumstances require them to return to work immediately, whilst others will simply be unable to breastfeed due to medical conditions.

In Australia, a study from the Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed that whilst 96 per cent of mothers begin breastfeeding straight after birth, most are unable to continue for more than a few months. Less than half (39 per cent) of babies are still being exclusively breastfed to three months, and less than one quarter (15 per cent) to five months. So, these arguments of ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ serve no purpose but to create feelings of guilt and helplessness.

It goes unsaid that breastfeeding will be the best option, if it’s possible. If not? Formula is fine, too. Just do what you can do. Those early months are a marathon whatever way you look at it, and putting undue stress on your body and mental health isn’t worth the pain.

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