According to the researchers from University College London, who reported their findings in the journal BMJ, breastfeeding can impact cognitive development, and that accounted for just over a third of nursing’s effect on improvements in social status. What’s more, the practice also seemed to lower the chances of downward mobility. …

For both groups, breast-feeding increased the odds of upward mobility — defined by the researchers on a four-point scale ranging from unskilled/semi-skilled manual to professional/managerial — by 24% and lowered the likelihood for downward social mobility by 20%. The effect was greatest for children who were breast fed for more than four weeks, and the social status gap was largest between those who were breastfed for four weeks or more and those we received only formula. The “breastfeeding effect” held even after the researchers accounted for the obvious factors, such as broad socioeconomic influences including employment rates and national economic stability, as well as individual characteristics such as parental education. …

But they acknowledge that their study could not tease apart whether this advantage resulted from the breast milk and its known nutrients and immune-system components, or from the intimate contact between mother and child that breastfeeding requires.