Breastfed babies 'develop fewer behaviour problems'


Professor Yvonne Kelly helped produce the research and told BBC Breakfast about the findings

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Children who are breastfed for four months or more develop fewer behaviour problems, Oxford researchers say.

The study, involving 10,000 mothers and their babies and in journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, says that may be because of the make-up of breast milk.

Or, it says, breastfeeding may lead to better mother-baby interaction.

Breastfeeding is already associated with other health benefits for babies, including lower rates of infection and less obesity in later life.

Researchers looked at the feeding habits of 10,037 mothers and their babies involved in a large study known as the Millennium Cohort Study.

Behaviour problems

The mothers were asked to assess problems in their children by the age of five, including anxiousness and clinginess, restlessness, and lying or stealing.

Only 6% of children who were breastfed showed signs of behaviour problems, compared with 16% of children who were formula-fed.

Start Quote

We just don't know whether it is because of the constituents in breast milk, or the close interaction with the mum”

End Quote The study authors

Mothers who breastfeed tend to be older, better educated, and from a higher socio-economic background, which may contribute towards fewer problems in their children's behaviour.

But even after the researchers, from the Universities of Oxford, Essex, York and University College London, adjusted their figures to take that into account, they still found there was a 30% greater risk of behavioural problems among formula-fed children.

"Our results provide even more evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding," said Maria Quigley of Oxford University, who led the research.

She said breast milk contained large quantities of a particular type of fatty acid, as well as growth factors and hormones, which were important for the development of the brain and nervous system.

But mothers who breastfeed also tend to interact with their children more, which could mean the babies learn more about acceptable ways of behaving.

Breastfed children also get ill less often, which may affect their behaviour.

Close interaction

"We just don't know whether it is because of the constituents in breast milk, or the close interaction with the mum, or whether it is a knock-on effect of reduced illness in breastfed babies," said Ms Quigley.

"But it does begin to look like we can add fewer behavioural problems as another potential benefit of breastfeeding."

The Royal College of Midwives welcomed the findings and said they added to the evidence that breastfeeding was better for babies.

Janet Fyle from the RCM said it was vital women had enough help and support from midwives to help them keep breastfeeding.

But she said it was important not to over-emphasise the study's results.

"We must not send a negative message to mothers that they have failed, or make then feel guilty because they bottle-fed their babies," she said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    The research prompting this article is purely statistical in nature, there is no causal evidence to link the symptoms described to not being breastfed, only conjecture. It is statistical rersearch rather than medical research. That doesn't mean it's bad research but does mean that it's an area where a lot more work needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    It is sad that so many parents feel that they have to defend their choice (or the necessity in health related issues) to bottle feed. I breastfed my three children before moving them onto formula and I loved every minute of it. However all that matters is that you bring your child up surrounded by love, care and support whilst setting boundaries and encouraging postive social interaction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Speaking as a breastfeeding mum, while breast milk has lots of biological benefits, babies are also affected by mums anxiety and stress. For many mums, trying to figure out breastfeeding with a screaming baby is stressful! Especially if not much support. The best thing for baby is a happy mum, and if breastfeeding doesn't work out formula feeding with lots of cuddles is a good substitute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    It's the mother's choice at the end of the day.

    But I think that if breatfeeding is to be encouraged, more needs to be done to change attitudes towards it.

    I know several young mothers who feel embarrassed about feeding in public places, and decided to bottle feed instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    An interesting study. Our four year old, son was never breast fed as he born three months premature, weighing two pounds.. Although my wife did express and he was fed by a tube then a bottle in hospital, most of his milk was formula. He is now a gorgeous, healthy little boy and according to the nursery he attends " one of the most pleasant children they have ever had ".


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