A new study of the feeding habits of 10,000 babies suggest that feeding them on demand, as opposed to following a strict routine, could result in children with better IQs.

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Millions of us have spent the day showering our mums with cards, flowers and chocolate - but before you part with your cash next year you might want to check out some new research.

A study published in the European Journal of Health suggests babies who were fed when hungry are smarter than those whose parents stuck to a strict routine.

Researchers studied the feeding patterns of over ten thousand babies born in the early 1990s who were both breast fed and bottle fed.

A new study of the feeding habits of 10,000 babies suggest that feeding them on demand, as opposed to following a strict routine, could result in children with better IQs.

It found the babies fed on demand went on to achieve higher scores in school Sats tests and that at the age of eight their IQ was higher than classmates who had been fed at intervals.

However those behind the study caution this is the first study of its kind and further tests are required before they can definitively draw a conclusion between feeding habits and IQ levels.

Dr Maria Iacovou from the Institute for Social and Economic Research said: "The difference between schedule and demand-fed children is found both in breastfed and in bottle-fed babies.

However. Dr Iacovou warned people to be cautious about claiming a causal link between feeding patterns and IQ.

"This research is based on large-scale data and we are confident that there is a very low risk that the results arose by chance," she said.

"Nonetheless, this is the first and only study of its kind, and further research is needed before we can say categorically that how you feed your baby has a long-term impact on his or her IQ and academic attainment, and before we can say definitively what the mechanisms are by which this relationship comes about."

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The research

Researchers from Essex and Oxford Universities looked at mothers and three types of feeding schedules - babies who were fed to a schedule, for example every four hours, when they were four weeks old, those whose mother tried but did not manage to feed to a schedule, and those who were fed on demand.

The data was drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a study of more than 10,000 children born in the Bristol area in the early 1990s.

The findings show that feeding on demand was linked with higher IQ scores at the age of eight, and better performance in national curriculum tests, known as Sats, at ages five, seven, 11 and 14.

The researchers also took into account background factors such as a parent's education, family income, the child's sex and age, maternal health and parenting styles.

The study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, concludes that mothers who fed their babies according to a schedule were more likely to get more sleep and to get more enjoyment out of parenting.

But it adds: "There appears to be a trade-off: children who were fed to a schedule go on to do less well in attainment and IQ tests, at all ages from five to 14."

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