Study Finds Breastfeeding Leads to Good Behavior in Childhood
Breastfeeding, the act of feeding an infant directly from the human breast, is known to be good for children. There are formulas available which can simulate a mother's milk, but can never perfectly replicate the natural act of breastfeeding. In the past, studies have shown inconsistent results as to whether or not breastfeeding really improves childhood wellbeing in areas such as IQ, behavior, and obesity. However, a new study from the University of Oxford has put a firmer grip on this already well-known theory.
Researchers from Oxford, as well as colleagues from the University of Essex, York, and University College London, investigated the association between the duration of breastfeeding and child behavior at age 5.
"We found that children who were breastfed for at least four months were less likely to have behavioural problems at age 5," says Maria Quigley, one of the lead researchers. "However, that observation might not have been the direct result of breastfeeding — it could have been down to a number of factors. As a group, mothers who breastfed for four months were very different socially to those who formula fed. They were more likely to be older, better educated and in a higher socio-economic position, on average. Having controlled for these and other differences between the groups, we found there was still a 30% lower risk of behaviour problems associated with prolonged breastfeeding."
The researchers used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a nationwide survey of infants born in 2000. The survey group for this study consisted of 9,500 mothers and babies of European ancestry. They combined the millennium survey with a questionnaire used to identify children with possible behavioral problems. Children scoring in the top ten percent of the questionnaire are considered abnormal scores which may result from emotional, conduct, or hyperactivity problems.
Of the babies who were formula-fed, 16.1 percent had abnormal scores. For breastfed babies, only 6.5 percent had abnormal scores. Of course other factors may be involved having to do with the child's upbringing or genetic inheritance. When all factors were accounted for, children who were breastfed for at least four months were still 30 percent less likely to have behavioral problems at age five.
"We just don't know whether it is because of the constituents in breast milk which are lacking in formula, or the close interaction with the mum during breastfeeding, or whether it is a knock-on effect of the reduced illness in breastfed babies" said Maria Quigley. "But it does begin to look like we can add fewer behavioral problems as another potential benefit of breastfeeding."
The study has been published in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Link to published article: http://adc.bmj.com/content/early/2011/03/24/adc.2010.201970.abstract