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Feeding baby on demand could boost brain power

Every new mom has faced the same frustrating chorus of conflicting advice concerning feeding their newborn – always with the whispered message that failing to do it properly will mean the difference between community college and Harvard.

Well, toss this fresh tidbit of research onto the playgroup round table and let the frenzied debate begin anew: A study published in the European Journal of Public Health suggests that while moms who feed their babies on demand may be crankier themselves, their babies will be smarter students with higher IQs.

The research found that, whether from the bottle or the breast, babies who were fed when they cried scored up to five points higher on IQ tests by the time they were 8 than babies who were fed on a schedule determined by their parents.

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For the study, researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex and the University of Oxford analyzed the test scores of 10,419 children born in the 1990s. They adjusted for other factors such as parents' educational levels, family income and maternal health. (It also didn't seem to matter whether mothers had originally tried to adhere to a schedule and then given up – their children experienced the same boost in IQ.)

Maria Iacovou, the study's lead researcher, suggested to The Guardian that a five point higher IQ was "statistically highly significant." In a class of 30 children, she told the British newspaper, a student ranked 15th could move up to 11th or 12th with a five-point jump in IQ.

The study did, however, report a cost to all this brain boosting on the mom side of the equation. Mothers who fed their babies on schedule reported feeling happier and more confident than mothers who responded whenever their babies cried. But, as this study will have you believe, they presumably slept better on report card day.

Do you studies such as this help mothers decide best practices? Or do they just pile on the guilt?

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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