Behind the Headlines: Are breastfed babies better behaved?

Breastfed children are more likely to be well behaved, according to newspaper reports.

Breastdeeding's impact on behaviour was judged by parents (Photography: SPL)
Breastdeeding's impact on behaviour was judged by parents (Photography: SPL)

A UK study showed that children breastfed for at least four months as babies were 30 per cent less likely to exhibit a range of behavioural problems when they started school.

What did the study look at?
Dr Maria Quigley and colleagues from the University of Oxford studied data from 10,037 mothers and their children. They looked at the impact of whether children were breastfed or not on behaviour at five years of age, as assessed by parents on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).

For those born at term, there was a 33 per cent lower risk of an abnormal score on SDQ for children who were breastfed.

Longer duration of breastfeeding in these children was associated with fewer behavioural problems.

These findings were consistent for children who were exclusively or only partly breastfed.

The association generally held true in preterm children as well, but the researchers' estimates of the size of the effect were less precise.

The researchers concluded: 'Our findings suggest that longer duration of breast feeding (at all or exclusively) is associated with having fewer parent-rated behavioural problems in term children.'

The evidence for an association between breastfeeding and behavioural problems in preterm children was unclear.

Should advice change?
Rosie Dodds, senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said: 'We are pleased to see another study on the benefits of breastfeeding, but even without such reports there are many reasons why the majority of UK mothers plan to breastfeed.

'NCT believes that overwhelmingly parents seek to do the best for their babies according to their own circumstances, and that the feeding decisions mothers make should be respected and supported.'

Informing patients
  • UK researchers found children breastfed for four months were less likely to exhibit behavioural problems.
  • The study used parental assessments at five years to judge children's behaviour.
  • The findings held up whether children were breastfed exclusively or only partly.

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