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By Peace Loise Mbae

Parents can increase their children’s intelligence quotient (IQ) permanently in a series of steps that scientists have found can also help in the early development of skills and comprehension and raise their kids’ self-esteem later in life.

By breastfeeding for longer than six months, for instance, it has been found that mothers can pass on nutrients that help in the development of the brain.

In a study by the Boston Children’s Hospital, breastfed children were found to achieve higher results in verbal intelligent tests that rose even higher with every additional period of breastfeeding.

The survey, which was conducted among 1300 mothers and their babies, observed significant change in the breastfed babies’ intelligence, which was attributed to the mega-3 fatty acids present in breast milk, known to contribute to brain development.

“We found that seven year olds that were breastfed for the first year of life were likely to score four points more in a test of verbal IQ. Verbal intelligence scores in seven year olds increased by 0.35 points for every extra month of breastfeeding and 0.29 points per month for non-verbal ones,” reported the researchers.

In Kenya, numerous campaigns have been launched urging mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months, following studies that found only a third of Kenyan mothers actually breastfed for that period of time.

However, while exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months of life has delivered progress in reducing infant deaths, additional studies now suggest that mothers have to breastfeed their children for at least a year to boost their IQ.

“The longer the mothers breastfed, the more likely their children were to score higher on vocabulary tests at age 3 and on intelligence tests at age 7. Breastfeeding during a child’s first year of life could boost their IQ by about four points when they enter school,” reported the Boston Children’s Hospital.

In addition to breastfeeding, the food a mother eats during pregnancy has also been identified as a way of boosting a child’s IQ.

Fruits anyway improve health and reduce lifestyle diseases, but recent research has also found that mothers who eat more fruits during their pregnancy have more intelligent babies.

“We analyzed data of 688 children from Edmonton, Canada and controlled for parameters that would typically influence learning and growth. These factors include family income, parental educational attainment and the child’s gestational age. The results showed that the IQ of children whose mothers ate six or seven servings of fruit or fruit juice daily while pregnant ranked six or seven points higher on the developmental tests,” read a 2016 research report by the University of Alberta, Canada.

Despite this, in 2016, the Ministry of Health found that only 2.5m Kenyans consume the recommended amount of fruits, which the ministry says has led to a surge in lifestyle diseases and higher IQs in children.

“Thirteen per cent of Kenyans are now obese, the majority being women. They suggested that this is due to lifestyle patterns and diet, with more people eating diets high in carbohydrates and sugar, with not enough fruit and vegetables,” read the report.

In tackling this, the World Health Organisation recommends eating at least five portions or 400g of fruits and non-starchy vegetables every day. They suggest always including vegetables in meals, choosing fruit and vegetables as snacks, and eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are in season.

Fruits such as bananas were found to be particularly effective in IQ boosting because they are rich in magnesium, which is an essential mineral in the transmission of nervous impulses. Bananas are also a  source of Vitamin B6, which is not only involved in the assimilation of magnesium, but also in the metabolism of amino acids and the functioning of the nervous system.

Swimming has also been found to have a great impact on children’s IQs. Teaching them to swim at an early age also leads to better cognitive skills.

A study by The Griffith University in 2015 found that children swimmers had far better cognitive abilities than normal, and intellectual comparisons showed that early swimmers were at least months, if not years, ahead of other children their age that did not know how to swim.

“We found that the kids that learnt how to swim earlier on, displayed better writing and reading skills, they could count better, and were able to use building blocks better than kids that did not take swimming lessons,” read the research report.

“One group of three-year-old test subjects was up to 15 months ahead of the normal curve in following directions, while kids that were a bit older than four years old were 10 months ahead in language skills, 11 months ahead in oral expressions, and nearly seven months ahead in math skills and kids nearly four years old had better grasping skills by seven months, and were close to four months ahead in locomotive skills.”

However, in teaching children how to swim, safety is key. According to Jan Emler Swim School, it is best practice to apply caution due to the high risk associated with infant drowning during swimming lessons.

“Teaching a child to swim can start as soon as the umbilical cord falls off. However, infants should not be put into swimming pools. For the most part these programs only cover bath time activities to help younger babies grow comfortable being in the water. Truly teaching infants and toddlers behaviors aimed at reducing the likelihood of drowning in the event of falling into a body of water does not usually start until six months of age,” said Jan Emler, Founding President, Emler Swim School.

Faced with such evidence, Kenyan parents can give their children a jumpstart in their academics by embracing lifestyles that boost their children’s IQs and will later reflect in their school performance, thereby reducing the pressure associated with the need to perform excellently.

-African Laughter