Breastfed babies develop fewer behavioural problems, new study suggests

Children who are breastfed for three months or more develop fewer behavioural difficulties than those who are not, new research suggests.

The new study is said to be the first to track behaviour into adolescence
The new study is said to be the first to track behaviour into adolescence

The study, said to be the first to track behaviour into adolescence, examined the long-term effect of breastfeeding as a baby on children’s behaviour at the ages of three, five, seven, 11 and 14.

Researchers found those breastfed for three months or more are less prone to social and emotional setbacks such as bouts of anxiety, struggles forming friendships or problems with concentration.

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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 World Health Organisation recommends babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives.

Lead author Lydia Speyer, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, 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.”

Babies being breastfed for less than three months has been linked to a range of behavioural difficulties but previous studies – mostly focused on early childhood – have been inconclusive.

The new study, led by the University of Edinburgh and Lancaster University, looked at the long-term impact of breastfeeding.

Data was taken from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the lives of nearly 20,000 people born in the UK in 2000-02.