Breastfeeding Linked to Better Behavior

Numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding protects babies against infection, illnesses and allergies, in addition to enhancing development and intelligence. Now, a new study finds that breastfed babies are less likely to have behavior problems when they start school.

The study, led by Maria Quigley of the national perinatal epidemiology unit at Oxford University, looked at a group of 9,500 children born in 2000 and 2001, all of whom were included in a nationwide British survey.

When the children were 9 months old, mothers were asked whether they had breastfed, and, if so, for how long. When the children were 5, parents were asked to gauge their children’s behavior in a series of standard questions, which researchers compiled into quantitative scores for each trait.

Children in the top 10 percent for each were classified as having an “abnormal” score. The data showed that 16 percent of formula-fed babies had abnormal behavioral scores by age 5, compared to 6.5 percent of babies breastfed for at least four months – a more than two-fold difference.

“We found that children who were breastfed for at least four months were less likely to have behavioral problems at age 5,” says Quigley, noting abnormal scores “might be unusual anxiousness, restlessness, inability to socialize with other children or play fully in groups.”

The researchers said one possible reason for the findings was that breast milk contains large amounts of essential long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, growth factors and hormones which are important in brain and nervous system development.

Several organizations, including the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend exclusive breastfeeding during the first four to six months of a child’s life. In addition, First 5 LA is committed to funding initiatives that promote breastfeeding, like the Baby-Friendly Hospital project.

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