Children who are breastfed for at least four months develop less behavioral problems in later life. Oxford researchers carried out a study on the feeding habits of 10,037 mothers and their babies, asking the mothers to regularly assess their children for signs of anxiousness, clinginess, lying, stealing and restlessness, among other problems. The study found that only 6% of breastfed children displayed these symptoms, compared to 16% of formula-fed children.
Breastfeeding is already credited with preventing infection and obesity, and creating a close mother-baby bond. Breast milk contains large quantities of a particular fatty acid, hormones and growth factors, all of which contribute to a healthy brain and nervous system. It is thought that this may be the reason why breastfed children are less likely to suffer from behavioural problems later in life.
However, it is also possible that this is a result of the closer bond between breastfeeding mothers and babies, and the increased interaction breastfeeding brings, or that breastfed babies have boosted immune systems and therefore are less likely to become ill.
The findings were welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives, who said the study clearly added to evidence that breastfeeding is better for babies, and stated that it is essential for women to be given enough support and help to continue breastfeeding successfully.