Breastfed babies are 30 per cent less likely to develop behavioural problems, according to the latest evidence that breast really is best.
To assess the effects of breastfeeding on behaviour, Maria Quigley at the University of Oxford and her colleagues collected data from more than 10,000 mothers in the UK.
When their infants were around 9 months old, each mother was asked whether she breastfed her baby and for how long. When the children reached the age of 5, their behaviour was assessed using a questionnaire completed by the mother.
This so-called Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is used to identify behavioural problems including anxiety, clinginess, restlessness, lying and stealing in youngsters. The team also noted the mothers’ socioeconomic status, education, smoking and relationship status, as these are all thought to influence offspring behaviour.
After accounting for these factors, the group found that babies exclusively breastfed for at least four months were 30 per cent less likely to exhibit a range of social and behavioural problems or score abnormally high on the SDQ.
As others have noted, this at best assesses what mothers who breastfeed *think* about their children’s behaviour, and that’s important. Also, it neglects the possibility that something else– like having a lifestyle conducive to breastfeeding– could be the common cause of breastfeeding and less fussy children (assuming they actually are less fussy, rather than just being perceived that way).
Interestingly, even the experimenters seem to think it’s likely not to actually be the breastmilk itself but the attachment that results from all the time feeding. If that’s right, then (a) one should emphasise that there are other ways to form said attachment (involving fathers, bottles or both); and (b) the US model– little if any maternity leave, but lots of pressure to pump– isn’t going to bring the benefit.
(Thanks, S and L!)