A UK study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) shows that babies who are fed on-demand, perform better academically, than those fed on schedule – even while their mothers appear less happy than moms who feed according to a schedule. This finding applies to both bottle-fed and breastfed babies.
Factors that were taken into consideration include, parent’s educational level, family income, the child’s sex and age, maternal health and parenting styles. The findings of the study are based on the results of IQ scores and school SAT results of 10, 419 children between the ages of 5 and 14.
Three feeding types observed
The study was divided into three feeding-types, namely:
- babies who were fed according to a routine by four weeks.
- children whose mothers had planned a routine but had not followed through, and;
- children whose mothers had only fed on-demand.
The research results show that similar IQ and SAT scores were found in the group of children whose mothers tried to feed using a routine but did not and those who fed on-demand. Both of these groups had higher scores than children who were fed on-schedule.
Dr. Maria Lacovou, head of ISER’s study, states that with such a large sample, these results are unlikely to be a matter of chance.
Demand feeding moms not as happy
On-demand fed babies are more often breastfed and according to the ISER study, mothers who feed on-demand are more likely to be ‘less happier’ than those who feed according to a set routine. These mothers tend to be less confident, irritable and tired. This is because breastfed children require more frequent feedings as breast milk digests faster than formula milk.
Despite this, breastfeeding — rather than bottle feeding — boosts a mother’s confidence as she is more at ease when tending to her child — a result of the frequent bonding time.
More research needed
The study, published by the European Journal of Public Health further shows that by eight years old, on-demand fed babies had IQ scores four to five points higher than their schedule-fed peers. However, there is a catch. Despite the numbers, this may not show radical results in the classroom.
Indeed, Dr. Maria Lacovou says “…though statistically highly significant, [IQ scores], would not make a child at the bottom of the class move to the top, but it would be noticeable. To give a sense of the kind of difference that four or five higher IQ points might take, in a class of 30 children, for example, a child who is right in the middle of the class, ranked at 15th might be, with an improvement of four or five IQ points, ranked higher, at about 11th or 12th in the class.”
This suggests that care is needed when interpreting these results.
“At this stage, we must be very cautious about claiming a causal link between feeding patterns and IQ. We cannot definitely say why these differences occur, although we do have a range of hypothesis. This is the first study to explore this area and more research is needed to understand the processes involved,” indicates Dr. Maria Lacovou.
According to psychologist, Penelope Leach (and author of the Essential First Year), this is no surprise since “a baby’s optimal brain development depends on communications between his ’emotional brain’ and his mother’s immediate and sensitive responses.”
Although this study shows that on-demand breast-fed and bottle-fed babies reap similar IQ results, which kind of milk is better for your baby?
Breastfeeding or Formula feeding on demand
A study focusing on breast feeding practices in two rural North West baby clinics, published by the Journal of Family Ecology and Consumer Sciences, found that mothers generally preferred breastfeeding their children aged between 0-36 months.
When these mothers were asked about nutritional and psychological advantages of breastfeeding, their responses included statements such as:
- it’s best for mother and child bonding,
- breast milk has proteins and vitamins and;
- a breastfed child gets a lot more love from their mother
From this study, it was concluded that although mothers in this area knew that breastfeeding was good for their baby — they didn’t have all the necessary facts to substantiate this knowledge.
Why breast is best
Unlike formula, breast milk – which is also referred to as the “perfect food,” contains nature’s superior combination of cells, hormones and antibodies that reduce a baby’s risk of sickness.
Advantages for breastfeeding your baby include reducing your baby’s risk of:
- ear infections
- respiratory infections and
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend breastfeeding for nutritional value and as a form of skin-to-skin bonding between mother and baby.
For moms, the benefits of breastfeeding include:
- Losing post-pregnancy weight — Breastfeeding burns calories and reduces the size of the uterus helping moms shed the weight.
- Lowering the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes — Studies also suggest that breastfeeding may lower the possibility of uterine and ovarian cancer.
- Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease — According to experts, this requires breastfeeding for at least 7 to 12 months.
The way forward
Ultimately, as a mom, the decision to breastfeed or bottlefeed on or off schedule is yours. Dietary plans, medical history and conditions (such as HIV or AIDS) must be considered before making decisions that may affect the well-being of you and your baby. Ask your doctor which option is best for you and your baby if you are unsure.