Is Breastfeeding the Answer to our Literacy Problems? Probably Not.
A recently published Australian study on the impact of early breastfeeding on school test performance at age 10 captured the interest of the media, but the most important results for educators were typically not included in these reports.
Researchers found that breastfeeding for longer than six months was a significant predictor of reading, spelling and math test scores at age ten for boys, but not girls. This finding is clearly of great importance to medicine.
Inspection of their data shows, however, that other predictors were much more powerful, including family income, mother's education, and whether the mother and child read together when the child was five years old. Family income and mother's education are related to access to books in the home, school and community (Krashen, 2004).
These results are very important for educators. They are a strong confirmation that access to books and reading to and with children are powerful means of insuring high levels of literacy, a commonsense view that is well supported by previous research (Krashen, 2004) but nearly completely ignored by policymakers.
Of interest to educators is how much breastfeeding added to the power of income, mother's education, and reading together in predicting test scores. Unfortunately, the authors did not perform a hierarchical analysis, but looking at their results (table 4), my guess is that it did not count for much.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing Company, and Westview, CONN: Libraries Unlimited. Second Edition.
Oddy, W., Li, J., Whitehouse, A., Zubrick, S. and Malacova, E. 2010. Breastfeeding duration and academic achievement at ten years. Pediatrics. Published online Dec 10, 2010, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/peds.2009-3489v1