If you want intelligent kids, read this…

By The Citizen

Many factors have been adduced for what makes a child to be intelligent, including heredity, school quality, environment, exposure, etc., but not much emphasis has been placed on the impact of exclusive breastfeeding, which experts have described as one of the most fundamental factors that influence a child's intelligence.

So, what is exclusive breastfeeding? According to a consultant endocrinologist, Dr. Michael Olamoyegun, while breastfeeding is when a woman feeds her baby with milk from her breasts, which he said mothers are encouraged to do for two years, exclusive breastfeeding is when the child is fed with only breast milk and nothing else for the first six months after birth.

He said the breast milk is the first balanced diet that a child should be fed with for the first six months, which is also in tandem with the recommendation of the World Health Organisation.

Perhaps, there is more to the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding than just basic nutrition.

According to a study by some Brazilian researchers, it was found that children who were more breastfed were more intelligent than those who did not enjoy exclusive breastfeeding.

The researchers conducted intelligence quotient test for about 3,500 people whom they followed from birth until they were 30 years old. They said the study, which enabled them to have an idea of the long-term effects of breastfeeding, showed that children who were breastfed for 12 months had an IQ that was four points higher than those breastfed for less than a month. 'And the longer they were breastfed as a baby, the better they tended to be doing,' the researchers added.

One of the researchers, Dr Lessa Horta, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said, 'It is already known that breastfeeding can increase a child's IQ by a small (but significant) amount, but our study provides the first evidence that prolonged breastfeeding not only increases intelligence until at least the age of 30 years (the period of the study) but also has an impact both at an individual and societal level by improving educational attainment and earning ability.

'There is evidence from other studies that the mother's milk is rich in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is essential for brain growth, and some studies have suggested that babies with a particular genotype are more likely to get the IQ benefit from breastfeeding than others.'

So, what is in breast milk that boosts intelligence? In the words of Olamoyegun, breast milk contains what the brain needs for its optimal development. According to him, the more the child is fed with it, the more the child's system has access to the needed nutrients for brain growth.

He explained that the breast milk, unlike artificial milk, is the best food that nature has prepared for the child at that time, and that in the milk are all the nutrients that are needed for the child's brain development.

He said, 'It is at that tender age when the child is very young that the brain is growing and developing. So, the breast milk contains all the nutrients (vitamins, proteins, fats, etc., all in appropriate proportions) the brain needs for its optimal development. If you give to the brain what it needs for development, it develops appropriately, which cannot be compared with what artificial milk can offer, and that is why the breast milk is produced when the baby is about to be born, usually at the end of the third trimester.

'At that time, prolactin, which is the hormone that controls lactation, begins to grow, the breast is enlarged, the breast milk is produced in anticipation of the child's sucking and it peaks at delivery. So, the moment the child is born and he begins to suck, the breast milk will begin to produce. Thus, the more the child sucks, the more the hormone is produced and the milk is formed. That is what is called positive feedback mechanism.'

He said one of the things that could affect a child's brain development is infection, noting that such could arise from artificial milk, unlike the breast milk that has antibodies that fight against infections.

He said, 'At that tender age, a child is susceptible to infections, so, if the child takes artificial milk that is infected, the infection may affect the child's brain development and the child's ability to perform maximally. Whereas, the breast milk contains antibodies that fight infections and that is one of the reasons why exclusive breastfeeding is encouraged, because the child would be less susceptible to infections that might affect the brain development.

Meanwhile, a study has shown that it is a myth to think that artificial milk, popularly known as formula, is the same with breast milk. It pointed out that the artificial milk is usually made from cow milk, which could contain bacteria, and that even though some people prepare it with hot water, it does not protect the baby from infections the way breast milk would.

However, Olamoyegun added that after the first six months, the mother could start to supplement the breast milk with other food items, but stressed that the breastfeeding should continue until two years.

He explained that after six months, the breast milk may not be enough for the baby again, noting that at that point, the mother could introduce baby food or what the rest of the family takes to supplement the breast milk.

Given the health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, he cautioned that children who are not breastfed for up to six months are susceptible to infections, diabetes in the future, especially the one with type 1, obesity, which on its own is attributed to diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, in the future. 'It has many effects, so, it is not encouraged to do less than six months,' he added.

Apart from the fact that it is specifically designed for the baby, the National Health Service in the United Kingdom found that breast milk protects the baby from infections and diseases, it provides the mother with a lot of health benefits. It is cheap and readily accessible and builds a strong emotional bond between the mother and the child.

Beyond the health benefits to the child, the woman who does the breastfeeding also derives some health benefits from it. The endocrinologist pointed out that breastfeeding for long reduces a woman's risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, especially breast cancer, and that it brings about lactation amenorrhea, which means absence of menses during breastfeeding, compared to other women who don't breastfeed for that long.

He explained, 'Lactation amenorrhea means that during breastfeeding, women don't usually resume menstruation on time because the hormone that controls lactation (the secretion of milk by the mammary glands) goes up and at the same time inhibits ovulation. Thus, it does not allow the woman to release egg or to become pregnant at that point in time, even though it might not be 100 per cent guaranteed.'

This, according to some men, is a welcome development because it would enable them to have more sex with their wives even while breastfeeding, more so that women who are breastfeeding often appear sexually attractive because their breasts are bigger at that time, which is a turn-on for most men.

Some women who dread the idea of exclusive breastfeeding often claim they do so to prevent their breasts from sagging, but experts maintain that breastfeeding does not make the breast to sag.

Olamoyegun said it is an erroneous belief that breastfeeding makes the breast to sag. He added, 'There is no scientific evidence that it does. Breast sagging is part of the aging process. The breast is held by ligaments and as the woman ages, the ligaments tend to lag, so, whether you breastfeed your baby or not, it will still sag. However, there are exercises that one can do that can make the breast to stand well.'

Experts also advised that the pain in the nipples, according to some women's claim, could also be minimised if the baby is positioned properly. 'Your baby breastfeeds, not nipple feeds, so as long as they can get a good mouthful of breast, they should be able to feed perfectly happily. Any amount of breast milk has a positive effect,' says Bridget Halnan, health visitor, Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust in the United Kingdom.

And for men who take pleasure in sucking their wives' breast milk while she is lactating, Olamoyegun said there is no nutritional benefit a man could derive from the milk. 'The nutrients there are so minute that they cannot be of any nutritional benefit to the man.

'So, if a man does that, it's just for the sexual pleasure to the man and even the woman, being a sexual organ. But we don't encourage the man to share it with the baby because it is meant for the baby at that time. He could continue when the baby has been weaned. It doesn't mean the man would finish it but it is just for the child to enjoy it at that time.' - Culled from Punch.