Can breast-feeding help your child climb the social ladder?
A new study published this week in the BMJ journal Archives of Disease in Childhood shows a large-scale study of children who were breast-fed early in life were found to be in higher social classes later in life.
The health benefits of breast-feeding on infants and children have long been known — that's why the World Health Organization recommends babies should be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life, and receive a combination of food and breast milk through age 2.
This was the first large-scale study that examined the benefits of breast-feeding into adulthood.
In the study, researchers followed more than 17,000 children born in 1958, and another nearly 17,000 born in 1970. At ages 5 to 7, their mothers were asked if they were breast-fed for less than four weeks, or greater than four weeks.
They then followed the children throughout their lives, checking in and asking questions that could be a factor in their social class later in life.
At the age of 33 or 34, researchers followed up with all of the children again and assessed their social class. They compared their social class at their adult age, to the social class of their parents when the children were age 10 or 11. They took into account cognitive development and stress scores that were assessed at 10 or 11.
Regardless of the year they were born and other factors, the children who were breast-fed were 24 percent more likely to increase their higher social position (compared to their parents) and 20 percent less likely to reduce their social position.
In the study, the researchers saw a 36-percent increase in intellect and low stress levels among the breast-fed children. Intellect is a factor known to influence social hierarchy. This suggested to the researchers that breast-feeding helped to boost kids up the social ranks.
The researchers did not say if it's the breast milk alone, or if it could be the skin-to-skin contact that influenced the children's social class.