The media has been obsessed in recent years with the reported benefits of breastfeeding, from higher intelligence in babies to stronger immune systems. While the advantages of a mother’s natural milk cannot be overlooked, according to a recent study, the true extent of health benefits associated with breastfeeding may be overstated.

The study found that while breastfeeding newborns is extremely healthy and still recommended for new mothers, its benefits may come with limits. The report found that babies who were breastfed did not score much higher on cognitive tests than those who were not breastfed, which suggests that the link between breastfeeding and increased intelligence is more coincidence than a direct result. In fact, when the team accounted for socioeconomic differences, the effect of breastfeeding on intelligence nearly disappeared, NPR reported.

Read: 4 Fears That Keep Women From Breastfeeding: Why Nursing Can Be Hard To Start

"This has been a debate for over 100 years, and we're working hard to understand the complete picture," study author Lisa-Christine Girard told NPR.

In addition, although breastfed babies were less hyperactive than those who were not, this impact on hyperactivity levels began to fade by age five. According to the report, these results suggest that factors other than breastfeeding may play a role in children’s development.

According to the study, positive benefits of breastfeeding may be more closely tied to the type of mothers more likely practice this behavior. For example, in the U.S. mothers who choose to breastfeed their children for the longest amount of time usually have higher levels of education than those who are unable to do the same. This may affect how many books they have available in the house or how much time they spent reading with their children, all factors that could play a role in a child’s academic potential. In addition, mothers who breastfeed are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors while pregnant, such as smoking, NPR reported.

While the science may not be all there regarding the benefits of breastfeeding on a child’s intelligence, studies do suggest that breastfeeding helps to boost a baby's immune system. According to a 2015 study, this is because breastfeeding exposes children to microorganisms and bacteria that stimulate the immune system in the first several weeks of their lives.

"The research is telling us that exposure to a higher and more diverse burden of environmental bacteria and specific patterns of gut bacteria appear to boost the immune system's protection against allergies and asthma," study lead author Dr. Christine Cole Johnson said in a statement.

Source: Furman L. Breastfeeding: What Do We Know, and Where Do We Go From Here? Pediatrics . 2017

See Also:

Benefits Of Breastfeeding Are Not Limited To The Baby; It May Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk In Some Mothers, Too

Breastfeeding Babies Born Early May Lead To Higher IQ, Better Cognitive Skills Later In Life