Mothers gift

breastfeeding has a positive effect on the intelligence of babies, besides lowering their risk of developing blood cancer and making them less vulnerable to asthma, going by some recently published reports. Researchers from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, usa , suggest that the intelligence quotient ( iq ) of breast-fed babies may be 3-5 points higher than those of formula-fed babies. And the longer a baby is breast-fed, the greater the benefits to the iq ( The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , Vol 70, No 4).

James W Anderson, professor of medicine and clinical nutrition, and his team reviewed 20 published studies on the effects of breastfeeding on infant iq . They attribute the higher iq levels to "brain food' found in the mother's milk. Breast milk contains the so-called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, like docosahexaenoic acid ( dha ) and arachidonic acid ( aa ), which are considered necessary for brain development. These nutrients are not found in formula food. "Infants deprived of breast milk are likely to have lower iq , lower educational achievement, and poorer social adjustment than breast-fed infants,' says Anderson.

Paediatricians suggest that enhanced bonding between mother and a breast-fed infant also plays a crucial role in the normal development as well as the enhanced iq . The findings are more prominent from developing countries like India where low birth weight babies stand to gain the most from breastfeeding. These infants do not receive adequate dha and aa during pregnancy, resulting in deficiencies.

The report claims that an average increase of 3.2 iq points may be attributed to the nutritional content of breast milk, and an additional 2.1 points may stem from the maternal bonding fostered by breastfeeding. The study found that these benefits were seen from six months of age through to 15 years. Moreover, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and provides natural antibodies to counter common childhood diseases.

A study by Les Robison and his team from the University of Minnesota Cancer Center points out that mother's milk reduces the child's risk of developing childhood acute leukaemia, a dreaded cancer. The researchers say the risk of leukaemia was 21 per cent lower in babies breast-fed for at least one month, and 30 per cent lower in those breast-fed for more than six months ( Journal of the National Cancer Institute , Vol 91, No 20).

Though smaller studies suggest that breastfeeding might reduce the risk of Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphoma that can occur during childhood, this is the first definitive evidence to prove a link between breastfeeding and leukaemia, which accounts for about one-third of all childhood cancers. Although the protective and health benefits of breastfeeding have been known in terms of protecting children from infection, "this is the first evidence to suggest that its immunity-stimulating effects may provide another significant advantage