Want your kid to be a CEO, mom? The breast is best, apparently.
A new British study has found that children who are breastfed are more likely to move at least one rung up in the social ladder – the difference between say a non-skilled manual job, and a skilled one, or professional class to manager.
The researchers looked at survey data from 1958 and 1970, and compared two sets of babies, adjusting for differences such as parental education, the health of the mom during pregnancy, including whether they smoked or drank. They compared the social class of their fathers when the children were 10 or 11 and compared it to their social status when they were in their early 30s.
The effect was small but statistically significant, says lead author Amanda Sacker, director of the International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at the University College London. Not only did breastfed babies get a step up in social mobility, they also were less likely to move downward.
The findings were also consistent across the two cohorts – in 1958, when more than two-thirds of British moms breastfed but social mobility was more stagnant, and in the 1970 group, when only one 36 per cent of mothers were breastfeeding but children born in that year were more likely, in general, to move up the ladder.
For both groups, breastfeeding increased the odds of improving upon one's social status by 24 per cent, and reduced downward mobility by about 20 per cent – and there's no reason, Sacker suggests, that a similar finding wouldn't also be found today, and in other countries.
The researcher conceded that it's hard to know what offered the greatest benefits – the nutrients provided by breastfeeding, or the bonding that results. Dr. Sacker suspects it's both. The research, which was published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, found that breastfeeding enhanced brain development and reduced stress overall.
But Dr. Sacker also pointed out that other effects – such as parenting and supports in childhood – probably have an even bigger impact than breastfeeding alone. "It's a boost," she told The Globe and Mail, "but it's not the only thing that's going to make the difference to your child's impact."
The takeaway, she suggested, is that governments and businesses should adopt better policies to help mothers with breastfeeding – strong parental leave benefits, for instance, and infant care at work. "Women need support," Dr. Sacker said, "and it shouldn't just be down to the individual to cope with their needs."