The benefits of breastfeeding are fairly well known. For example breastfed babies have lower rates of infections, and mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer. However in a new study, breast feeding may now influence behavior patterns of infants as they mature. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to grow into children with behavior problems by the time they reach the age of five than those who receive formula milk.
Maria Quigley of the national perinatal epidemiology unit at Oxford University, who led the work, said the findings “provide even more evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding,” and continues:
“Mothers who want to breastfeed should be given all the support they need. Many women struggle to breastfeed for as long as they might otherwise like, and many don’t receive the support that might make a difference.”
Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.
Questionnaires were posed to thousands of parents in which strengths and difficulties in their children were examined. Abnormal scores were less common in children who were breastfed for at least four months at 6% compared with formula fed children who came in at 16%.
English scientists used a nationwide British survey of babies born in 2000-2001 called the Millennium Cohort Study and included data for more than 9,500 mothers and babies born at full term to families of white ethnic background.
Why this difference between breast milk and popular formulas?
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.
Even though many Americans have the mistaken idea that today’s infant formulas are nearly identical to human milk and that they are “almost as good as breast milk”, that is not true at all. Formula-fed babies are sicker, sick more often, and are more likely to die in infancy or childhood. Compared to exclusive and extended breastfed babies, formula-fed babies have a doubled overall infant death risk, and 4-fold risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Peter Kinderman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool, who was not involved in the study, said it was a good piece of research with important findings:
“Positive bonding between parent and child is known to be fantastically helpful for development. This is more evidence of the importance of breastfeeding and mother-baby attachment, not just for physical health but also for the psychological development of the child.”
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with solids gradually being introduced around this age when signs of readiness are shown. Supplemented breastfeeding is recommended until at least age two, as long as mother and child wish.
Written by Sy Kraft