Want to reduce the chances of having an anxious, hyperactive, or poorly behaved toddler? A new study suggests breastfeeding for four months or longer.
Many of the benefits of breastfeeding are already well known; breastfed babies have lower rates of infections and obesity, higher IQs, and their mothers have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Now a new study in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that breastfeeding may also reduce behavioral problems. Oxford University researchers found that women who breastfeed their children for four months or longer are likely to have children with fewer behavioral problems by age five.
The study of 10,000 infants born in 2000 and 2001 found that 16 percent of formula-fed children had developed behavioral problems by age five, including hyperactivity, lying, stealing, and anxiety, while only six percent of breastfed children developed such problems.
It’s possible that factors other than breastfeeding contributed to the results, said researchers. Mothers who breastfeed tend to be older, better educated, and be from a higher socio-economic background. But even when researchers controlled for these things, breast fed babies still had a 30 percent lower risk of behavioral problems.
While scientists are unsure how breastfeeding protects children, they say it’s possible that breastmilk contains special fatty acids that aid brain development. It also may be that good behavior results from the strong bond that nursing creates between mother and child.