Breastfed Infants Have Fewer Behavior Problems Later in Childhood

by Dr Sam Girgis on May 10, 2011

The beneficial effects of breastfeeding a baby is well known and documented in the medical literature.  Some of the benefits include decreased number of infections in the baby, less obesity later in life for the baby, decreased incidence of asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) for the baby, and decreased incidence of breast cancer in the mother.  Some of these effects are a result of passive immunity, which occurs when the mother’s antibodies are passed along to the baby in the mother’s breast milk.  A recent study by doctors from the Universities of Oxford, Essex, York and University College London which was published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood has added the list of beneficial effect of breastfeeding.  The study showed that infants who are breastfed for four or more months developed less behavior problems later in life.  The investigators looked at 10,037 mothers and their babies who were part of a larger group known as the Millennium Cohort Study.  The mothers answered surveys and questionnaires about the behavior of their children at age 5 and included things such as restlessness, anxiousness, lying, and stealing.  Of the children who were breastfed, only 6% showed signs of behavior problems.  This is in comparison to the children who were bottle fed, who showed signs of bad behavior in 16% of cases.  Several hypotheses have been put forth by the researchers to explain this result.  Mothers that breastfed tended to be older, more highly educated, and from a higher socio-economic status.  Even after taking these differences into account, the breast fed children were 30% less likely to develop behavior problems by the age of 5 years.  Breastfeeding can help form a stronger bond between the baby and the mother and thus help prevent behavior problems as the child learns acceptable forms of behavior from the mother.  From a scientific view, the researchers postulated that breast milk contains larger amounts of fatty acids, growth factors, and hormones, which can aide in the development of the baby’s brain and central nervous system.  The study authors stated that more efforts should be made to help mothers who want to breast feed their infants.  In addition, mothers who bottle feed should not be looked down upon.  More research is needed, but the study seems to add the prevention of behavior problems to the list of beneficial effects of breastfeeding for infants.


Katriina Heikkilä et. al. (2011) “Breast feeding and child behaviour in the Millennium Cohort Study” Arch Dis Child ; Published Online First: 9 May 2011

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