Breastfed babies develop fewer behavioural problems, says study
Babies who are breastfed for the the first three months of their life or longer develop fewer behavioural problems later on down the line than those who are not, suggests a new study.
Researchers tracked the long-term effects of breastfeeding as a baby on children’s behaviour at the ages of three, five, seven, 11, and 14.
They found that those who had been breastfed for three months or more were less prone to issues with concentration, as well as struggles forming friendships and periods of anxiety.
This was found to be the case even allowing for other influencing factors such as maternal education, maternal psychological distress and family socioeconomic status.
The researchers took data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the lives of nearly 20,000 people born in the UK between 2000 and 2002. Around 11,000 people – children, parents, and teachers, contributed to this research.
The study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, concludes: ‘This study offers further evidence consistent with the idea that breastfeeding plays a crucial role in children’s socioemotional behavioural development.
‘Longer breastfeeding durations are associated with fewer behavioural problems in the short and long terms, though future research is required to illuminate the mechanisms.
‘Results support current healthcare policies that seek to encourage mothers to exclusively breast feed for the first six months of the infant’s life.’
While the study did not examine explanations for why breastfed babies might develop fewer behavioural problems, lead author Lydia Speyer, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, puts forward some theories.
She suggests that it could be down to the oxytocin released by breastfeeding, which has a positive effect on mood and reduces stress.
Breast milk also contains oxytocin as well as fatty acids that are important for brain development.
Lydia Speyer said: ‘The positive impact of breastfeeding on children’s physical development is well known but the effect on their social and emotional development is less understood.
‘Having identified that there are potential behavioural benefits, our study strengthens the case for public health strategies that promote breastfeeding, where possible.’
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