A new Australian research finds that the babies who gained weighed quickly and had a higher head circumference in the first month of their birth were more likely to score slightly higher in their intelligence tests at 6 years old.
Study’s lead author, Lisa Smithers, a postdoctoral research fellow in early life nutrition at the University of Adelaide, in Australia said that a faster growth rate in the first four weeks after birth was linked to a slightly higher intelligence in children.
“We found that faster growth in the first four weeks following birth was linked to a small increase in intelligence quotient scores at 6.5 years, but there were no clear effects on children’s behavior.”
She says that it can therefore help parents if they get help quickly if they are concerned about their baby’s growth or feeding habit in the first few months.
She was quick to explain though that it was not necessary that faster growth was directly linked to higher IQ. It could possibly be the reverse that was true, where poor growth was responsible for poor IQ in kids.
“[However], we cannot say that faster growth causes a higher IQ,” Smithers said. “It is possible that a phenomenon called ‘reverse causality’ may be at play, for example, if children with lower IQs had poorer growth.”
The research was conducted on 17,000 moms and their babies in Belarus. These included only moms who had given birth to single, healthy babies on or after 37 weeks of pregnancy.
The study authors measured the baby head circumference and weight in the first four weeks after birth. At 6 and half years the intelligence of each child was measured using several IQ scales. These were then combined to get a full IQ report of the children. The full-scale IQ scores can range from 50 to 150, Smithers said, and the average score is 100. Parents and teachers were also asked to fill behavioral questionnaires.
They found that babies who had higher head circumference and growth scored 1.5 points higher than those with lower growth. There was though no statistical difference in the behavior of the kids because of this early growth.
“Our study involved thousands of healthy babies, so our findings reflect a wide range of growth patterns that might be expected within a healthy population,” Smithers said.
She added that the research would be useful to experts and would not really be noticable to individuals as the 1.5 point higher score was meaningless if only a single child was being considered.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, medical director of pediatric rehabilitation at LaRabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago said,
“A 1.5-point difference would be meaningless in an individual child and that child’s success in life, but on a population level, such a difference may matter.”
“It’s clear, though, that brain growth equals [thinking ability] growth, and it’s interesting to see that really early brain growth correlates to intelligence at 6 years,” she said. “It shows that it’s important that early feeding difficulties shouldn’t linger.”
Adding that women who have trouble breast-feeding should seek help sooner.
“Breast milk is God’s perfect food, but this study suggests that it’s better to get nutrition early,” Thornton said.
On the other hand, both say that the research does not mean that parents should over feed their kids.
“Babies should never be forced to eat,” Smithers said. “Babies should be fed on demand. Overfeeding may raise other problems over the longer term, as there is some evidence to suggest that more rapid growth in infancy is linked to poorer health outcomes, such as obesity and high blood pressure. Our study draws attention to the importance of balance.”
Thornton agreed. “Make sure the baby is getting enough food for optimal growth, but don’t overfeed to try to make the baby smarter,” she said.