Breastfeeding babyA higher IQ and better grades in school have long been associated with breastfed babies but a new study suggests it might not be the milk that makes the difference. Sociologists at Brigham Young University (BYU) say it’s more likely all about mom, instead.

Ben Gibbs and Renata Forste of the Utah university analyzed data collected from a nationwide group of 7,500 mothers and their babies. The info was collected from the time the babies were born until they were 5 years old.

The data the BYU sociologists analyzed was exhaustive, including details about what the children were fed as infants, but included other details too, such as when did parents start reading to their children and how often did they read to them. Videotapes were made of mothers interacting with their children during specific tasks designed to challenge the children.

The Utah researchers identified the expected breastfeeding correlation in their study group but they found other trends that promote the mental and academic development of children as well. The report of their study is available in the March 2014 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

The study revealed a heightened sensitivity to their children’s emotional cues in the group of mothers who breastfed them. These mothers responded more readily and more effectively to the emotional signals their children were sending them.

Reading proved to be an important factor, too. The children who fared better academically at age 5 were more likely to have parents who started reading to them when they were only about 9 months old. These same parents read to their children often throughout early childhood; some of them read daily.

The research team says the closer bonding between mother and child could influence a child’s brain development by as much as two or three months by the time the child reaches age 4 years. This developmental increase was measured by using a standard assessment of each child’s math and reading readiness.

Gibbs says a developmental head start of just a month or two accounts for a lot of learning and growing time when you’re just 4 years old. “If a child is on the edge of needing special education, even a small boost across some eligibility line could shape a child’s educational trajectory,” according to Gibbs.

The sociologists found that time spent with a parent reading to him or her every day beginning around 9 months rather than the breast milk it fed on as an infant were “significant predictors of reading readiness at age 4 years.” Unfortunately, children most at risk for learning delays are the least likely to bond so closely with their parents; single mothers may not have the opportunity for such in-depth daily bonding and less-educated parents may not value reading highly enough to read daily to their children.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune. “Study shows why breastfed babies are so smart.” Brigham Young University News / Release. Brigham Young University. Feb 26, 2014. Web. Mar 13, 2014.