Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that breastfeeding can have significant impacts on cognitive development and improvements in social status. In addition, they revealed it can lower the chances of downwards mobility.
They based their findings on changes in social class among 17,419 people born in 1958 and 16,771 born in 1970.
The study involved questioning the children's mothers on whether they had breastfed their child.
They identified the social class of the fathers of the children when they were 10 years old and compared it to their social class when they were adults at the age of 33.
Using a four-point scale, the investigators categorized social class from unskilled to professional.
Dr Amanda Sacker, International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at UCL, said that "this is the first large scale study to find that the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond infancy and childhood into adulthood."
A number of different influential factors were taken into account, such as cognitive development and stress scores, which were assessed at the age of 10.
Children born in 1970 were far less likely to be breastfed by their mothers compared to those born in 1958. Only 36% of children born in 1970 were breastfed, compared to 68% in 1958.
The researchers found that children born in 1958 were more likely to be downwardly mobile compared to those born in 1970 - who were found to be more upwardly mobile.
Even when considering background factors, those who were breastfed were significantly more likely to climb the social ladder compared to those who weren't.
The "breastfeeding effect" was consistent among children born in both years.
Breastfeeding increased the chance of upwards mobility by 24% and reduced the risk of downward mobility by 20%.
Breastfeeding increased upwards social mobility because it improves brain development and intellect as well as reducing the likelihood of being overwhelmed by stress.
An Australian study found that babies who were breastfed for at least six months scored significantly higher in academic tests at the age of ten compared to those who weren't.
It is still uncertain whether it is the nutrients in breast milk or the bonding during breastfeeding which contributes to the benefit of the child.
The authors suggest that a "combination of physical contact and the most appropriate nutrients required for growth and brain development is implicated in the better neurocognitive and adult outcomes of breastfed infants."
Professor Amanda Sacker, of the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at UCL, and lead author of the study, concluded:
"This is the first large scale study to find that the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond infancy and childhood into adulthood. Independent of other biological, social and economic circumstances, those who were breastfed were about 1.25 times more likely to be upwardly mobile."
The benefits of breastfeedingA recent Save the Children report stated that if all mothers breastfed their newborns as soon as they were born, about 830,000 lives annually would be saved.
Scientists in Switzerland and the UK found that breastfeeding is linked to enhanced lung function at school age, their study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Breastfeeding Medicine recently published a report which revealed that breastfeeding can help prevent children from developing ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) later in life.
Breastfeeding rates on the riseThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that there are more American mothers breastfeeding today than before, and that there is also a record number still breastfeeding at six months.
CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said:
"Breastfeeding is good for the mother and for the infant - and the striking news here is, hundreds of thousands more babies are being breastfed than in past years, and this increase has been seen across most racial and ethnic groups.
Despite these increases, many mothers who want to breastfeed are still not getting the support they need from hospitals, doctors, or employers. We must redouble our efforts to support mothers who want to breastfeed."
Written by Joseph Nordqvist