Friday, May 13, 2011

The link between breastfeeding and behavior in children

A study published in the May 2011 issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood found that five-year-old children who were breastfed as babies are better behaved than their formula-fed counterparts! Researchers from across the United Kingdom culled data for the report from the Millennium Cohort Study, a research project that follows the development of approximately 19,000 children born in the U.K. in 2000 and 2001.

Researchers collected and analyzed data about how the babies were fed and for how long, and combined this information with the results of 9,500 questionnaires filled out by parents regarding a variety of behavioral issues. These included conduct (stealing and lying), emotional (anxiety and separation-related issues), and hyperactivity.

The analysis showed that of the children with abnormal scores on the behavioral questionnaire, 6 percent were breastfed for four months or longer, while 16 percent were formula fed. The conclusion: There is a link between breastfeeding and brain development that effects behavior.

Researchers say that the large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, growth factors, and hormones found in breastmilk impact the development and function of the infant’s brain and central nervous system. Additionally, they concluded that the interaction between breastfed babies and their mothers can have a positive impact on the child’s behavior later in life. Researchers came to the same conclusions when controlling for influences like socio-economic status and other parental factors.

This new research adds to the mounting stack of evidence in favor of the benefits of breastfeeding, and the risks of not breastfeeding. Over the years, studies have shown that breastfed babies are protected against common childhood gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, stomach cancers, and peptic ulcers; have a reduced risk of depression; and might even have a higher IQ. Breastfeeding is also associated with lower rates of obesity later in life -- a cause championed by First Lady Michelle Obama in her Let's Move Campaign to reduce the rate of childhood obesity.

And of course, moms who breastfeed enjoy their own set of benefits. One of the most significant is reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease and its risk factors -- high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Research has also shown that the longer a woman breastfed, the less likely she is to develop breast cancer. And the weight loss many women report as a bonus of breastfeeding is a significant benefit in a culture plagued by obesity.

The behavioral benefits of breastfeeding are great for the children and their parents, but it's really an indication of something much more important -- healthier brain development. Certainly something to consider when weighing your infant-feeding options.

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