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Jewish World Review May 14, 2002 / 3 Sivan, 5762

Patricia Pearson

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Consumer Reports

I'm an idiot --- and it's my mother's fault | I'm stupid.

This is my mother's fault. She breast-fed me for only six weeks, because she developed a breast abscess. After that, I was plied with formula and cow's milk, which I supplemented - once I could sit - with gravel, sand and carpet lint.

As a result, according to a study in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association, I am notably stupider than, say, my friend Karen, whose mother was quite enlightened for the early 1960s and breast-fed her until she was 2.

Like other recent studies on the subject, JAMA reports that babies who breast-feed for nine months boast an average I.Q. that is six points higher than babies who suckle for less than one month.

Six points isn't "the difference between an Einstein and a mentally retarded child," said study director June Machover Reinisch, but it could be the difference "between normal and bright-normal, or bright-normal and superior."

The differences between me and Karen are clear, for instance. She has a master's degree. So do I. She is a newspaper editor. I'm a book author. We both did really well in humanities in college and bombed in math. We lock our keys in our cars about the same number of times a year and have both missed flights because we read the departure times on our tickets wrong.

However, Karen is better at personal finance. She knows what "futures trading" is, whereas I haven't the faintest idea. So, there's your six-point spread right there. Mothers who breast-feed for longer than six weeks will raise children with a somewhat more acute grasp of the stock market. Voila .


I do endorse breast-feeding, of course. It's healthier, cheaper and more satisfying. But millions of women cannot breast-feed infants for nine months, because they work, or fall ill, or must travel, or for myriad other reasons. I find it useless to parade shiny new scientific experiments before these mothers, hectoring them about small and variable I.Q. differences, which only make them feel neurotic.

Consider the "variable" aspect. In the past five years, during which I've become the mother of two bright children, I have learned from blared headlines that: Eating fish caught in Lake Ontario or Lake Michigan will have lowered my children's I.Q., while exposing them to classical music will have raised it, but smoking - by me, my husband or anyone within screaming distance - will have knocked off four points, whereas sign language will jump-start hearing babies' I.Q. by 10 points, yet drinking, however early in pregnancy or moderately, will plunge that score, while reading, from seven months on in a child's life, will raise it again.

Oy. I call it the Yo-Yo Effect. "My child is smart. No he's not, yes he is, no he's not, yes he is. Gaaaaa!"


I do wish to point out that my bottle-fed mother (with chain-smoking parents) for some reason scores fully 20 points higher than I do on a standard I.Q. test. She speed-reads novels in roughly 20 seconds flat and remembers the name of every single acquaintance I, and my four siblings, ever made, all the way back to preschool. But she still loses her wallet somewhere in the house every day.

What is gained with these endless I.Q. studies? Are women not already aware of the overall benefits of breast-feeding? Have they not already factored in their personal constraints and inclinations?

My objection has to do with blowing issues out of proportion at the expense of more compelling 21st century parental challenges. Will I.Q. research turn the tide on child poverty? Will it make a dent in the number of children living without health insurance? Will it enable smart kids to suddenly afford a college education?

This past week, at the United Nations Summit on Children in New York, children from all over the world, the United States included, were invited for the first time ever to address the diplomats and foreign ministers of the General Assembly, to plea for their future.

The children spoke movingly of AIDS, of sexual abuse, of malnutrition, of war, of illiteracy. I'm just guessing, but I'll bet that none of those articulate, passionate children thought to raise a complaint about the trauma of losing I.Q. points due to a hardworking, bottle-feeding mom.

JWR contributor Patricia Pearson is the author of "When She Was Bad: How and Why Women Get Away with Murder." Comment by clicking here.

04/19/02: Should we allow psychics to be sued for fraud?

© 2002, Patricia Pearson