Demand-fed babies win IQ race study

The study shows that babies who are fed when they are hungry have higher IQs. Photo / Thinkstock
The study shows that babies who are fed when they are hungry have higher IQs. Photo / Thinkstock

It is a debate that has raged for years, pitting mothers who follow Gina Ford and her routine-based approach to child-rearing against those who prefer the more laidback ways of Penelope Leach.

Now the battle is set to intensify as new research suggests that babies who are fed on demand do better academically than those who are fed on schedule - although their mothers are more exhausted and grumpy.

The study shows that babies who are fed when they are hungry - with breast milk or formula - achieve higher scores in tests at ages 5, 7, 11 and 14, and that by the age of 8 they have an IQ four to five points higher.

But mothers who keep to scheduled feeding times score better on wellbeing measures, and report feeling more confident and less tearful.

Researchers from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex and Oxford University in the UK believe they are the first to conduct a large-scale study into the effects of scheduled versus on-demand feeding.

The research used a sample of 10,419 children born in the early 1990s, and took into account a range of background factors, including parental educational levels, family income, a child's sex and age, maternal health and parenting styles.

Dr Maria Iacovou, from the ISER, who led the research, said: "The difference between schedule and demand-fed children is found both in breast-fed and in bottle-fed babies.

"The difference in IQ levels of around four to five points, though statistically highly significant, would not make a child at the bottom of the class move to the top.

"But it would be noticeable."

The research compared babies fed to a schedule at 4 weeks old with those whose mothers tried but did not manage to feed to a schedule, and with those who were fed on demand.

The children of mothers who had tried but failed to feed to a schedule were found to have similar higher levels of attainment in standard assessment tasks tests and IQ scores as demand-fed babies.

Iacovou said: "This is significant because the mothers who tried but did not manage to feed to a schedule are similar to schedule-feeding mothers.

"It seems that it is actually having been fed to a schedule, rather than having the type of mother who attempted to feed to a schedule - successfully or not - which makes the difference."

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