An Oxford University study has revealed that breastfeeding may be related to improved behavior, in addition to the various health benefits of breastmilk. The results of the study were published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
There are plenty of medical studies and verifiable health reasons to breastfeed your infant, but breastfeeding support is not always as solid as it needs to be for new mothers to push through the struggles of breastfeeding and continue past the first two to three months. According to Maria Quigley, study author, “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.” For this reason, continued research on the benefits of breastfeeding is crucial as an additional layer of support.

Studies have proven breastfeeding decreases the risk of infant infections, decreases the risk of breast cancer for the breastfeeding mother, decreases the risk of childhood obesity and increases IQ. However, for every study proving one of these benefits, there is a study that negates the connection. One such study result falling on both side of the debate is the connection between breastfeeding and improved child behavior. Oxford University researchers wanted to find out once and for all if there was a connection between the two.

Researchers found a clear connection between breastfeeding for four months or longer and improved behavior, but there are other factors that could have attributed to the differences in behavior, including socio-economic status and age of mother when the infant was born. Researchers took these factors into consideration and the results still showed a 30% decline in risk of behavioral problems.

The questionnaires used in the study asked parents to report unusual behavior of their 5-year-old children. They were also asked how long they breastfed. Unusual behavior included being excessively clingy or not wanting to participate in group activities. When the questionnaires were complete, slightly more than 16% of bottle fed babies scored in the top 10% for behavioral problems as opposed to just 6.5% of the breastfed children.

Researchers have yet to decipher whether the breastmilk or the act of breastfeeding is responsible for the change in behavior.

Source: Katriina Heikkila, Amanda Sacker, Yvonne Kelly, Mary J Renfrew and Maria A Quigley. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 5 January, 2012.