If you’re still feeling guilty for quitting breastfeeding after too many painful and frustrating attempts to make it work, rest assured: Your kid will be no worse off than her breastfed peers when she starts school. Despite all those claims that moms hear about how breastmilk can make your baby smarter and more well-behaved later in life, new research suggests they just aren’t true.
The study, which comes from researchers in Ireland and was published in the respected journal Pediatrics, reveals that non-breastfed babies have just as strong cognitive abilities and vocabularies as their breastfed counterparts at ages three and five.
Though there are health benefits to breastfeeding—the milk contains antibodies that support a baby’s immune system, hormones that help a baby grow, and bacteria that contribute to a healthy microbiome, which can reduce the risk for asthma and obesity—that may be where the benefits end.
The new study suggests that other factors, like a mother’s education, are far more likely to be behind the differences in kids’ cognitive development that have previously been attributed to breastfeeding. The study compared about 8,000 children and evaluated them based on emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity and inattention, peer relationship problems and prosocial behaviour. Unlike some other studies, it accounted for the parents’ education, ethnicity, class, family situation and smoking habits, then directly compared breastfed and non-breastfed children, one-to-one, to look for differences among those whose situations were otherwise similar. The only significant difference was between three-year-old kids who were breastfed six months or more and those who weren’t: Parents reported more hyperactivity among the three-year-olds who had been formula-fed before six months. But, by age five, no differences remained.
Of course, breastfeeding is still advised as the gold standard for giving your baby a healthy start to life. But if sore nipples, problems latching, postpartum depression or even just utter exhaustion make you want to reach for a bottle, don’t beat yourself up about it. Your kiddo will be no less likely to become a world-renowned scholar because of it.