Could Breastfeeding Make Baby the Most Popular Kid in School?

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New research published by the Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that breastfeeding not only boosts baby’s chances of climbing the social ladder, but it also reduces the chances of downwards mobility for children.

Researchers studied the changes in two different social groups born in 1958 (17, 419 people) and in 1970 (16,771 people). They asked each of the children (when they were aged 5 or 7) whether or not their mother breastfed them as babies. From the findings, researchers compared people’s social class as children (categorized on a four-point scale that ranged from unskilled to semi-skilled manual to professional/managerial) — based on the social class of their father when they were 10 or 11 — with their social class as adults, which was measured when they were 33 or 34. Because the research was gathered over a large scale of time, those involved in performing the study also took into account a range of influential factors, derived from regular follow-ups every few years. The follow-ups included studies on the children’s brains and their cognitive development and stress scores, which were assessed using validated tests at the ages of 10 and 11.

After all was said and done, the findings showed that significantly fewer children were breastfed in 1970 than in 1958, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) of mothers breastfeeding their children in 1958 and only one in three mothers (or 36 percent) breastfeeding in 1970. Not surprisingly, social mobility changed over time as well, with children born in 1970 more likely to be upwardly mobile than those born in 1958. When researchers included the background factors into the equation, they found that children who had been breastfeed were consistently more likely to have climbed the social ladder than those who had not been breastfed. These findings were true for both those born in 1958 who were breastfed and those born in 1970.

Researchers were also able to measure the “breastfeeding effect” during both time periods and found that it was the same. Breastfeeding increased the odds of upward mobility by 24 percent and reduced the odds of downward mobility by around 20 percent for both the 1958 and 1970 birth group. Stress and intellect both accounted for a third (36 percent) of the total impact of breastfeeding and the researchers defined it as follows: breastfeeding enhances brain development, which in turn boosts intellect, which also increases upward mobility. The study also suggests that breastfed children show fewer signs of stress when compared to their non-breastfed counterparts.

According to the co-authors of the study, the evidence collected suggests that breastfeeding confers a range of long-term health, behavioral and developmental advantages to children, which persists into adulthood. While the nutrients in breast milk and the skin-to-skin contact as well as the associated bonding during breastfeeding are all notable benefits for children, co-authors of the study noted that it is difficult to pinpoint just which awards the greatest advantage to children. They added, “Perhaps the combination of physical contact and the most appropriate nutrients required for growth and brain development is implicated in the better neurocognitive and adult outcomes of breastfed infants.”

Do you think breastfeeding baby helps him climb the social ladder?

Plus, more from The Bump:

11 Things You Didn’t Know About Breastfeeding

Top 10 Reasons to Breastfeed

Stumbling Into Breastfeeding