Newly released research looking at long-term effects of breastfeeding continue to support the benefits of nursing, including reducing anxiety and lack of concentration as well as stronger social-emotional skills in adolescence.
New research from the United Kingdom continues to support the long-term benefits of breastfeeding, with findings showing babies who are breastfed for three months or more have fewer behavioral problems in adolescence.
The study came from researchers at The University of Edinburgh. Study author Lydia Speyer said that it’s well-known that breastfeeding has a positive impact on children’s physical development, but the relationship between nursing and their social and emotional development is less known.
To investigate, Dr. Spencer and her team looked at over 11,000 children, and analyzed their behavioral traits at ages three, five, seven, 11 and 14. They found that babies who were breastfed for three months or more had fewer behavioral issues as they grew into children and adolescents.
They were also found to have less difficulty forming friendships, and fewer issues with concentration, as well as less prone to having social and emotional difficulty with things like anxiety and fear.
The findings support the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which says that babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of their lives.
We always stand with the stance that feeding your baby is best. We fully understand that not every mother can nurse her baby, and we never want any mother to feel less than for any nursing difficulties she may face.
Still, the findings support that we need to continue to help mothers everywhere in their nursing journeys–particularly in communities of women of color–by raising awareness of benefits, education and walking along.
Dr. Speyer said that the findings strengthen the case for even more public health strategies that would promote and encourage breastfeeding wherever possible. The WHO estimates that nearly 2 of every three babies worldwide is not breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and these findings support the notion that we need to work harder to reduce that number.
The study took data from the Millennium Cohort Study. This study tracks the lives of almost 20,000 people born in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2002.
Researchers analyzed Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ). This is a measure of a child’s mental well-being and they were completed by parents and teachers of the children in the study. The research team found that children breast-fed at least three months had significantly lower SDQ scores than children who hadn’t. A lower score indicates stronger emotional health, attention and peer relationships.
They also found this to be the case regardless of other environmental factors like maternal education, family socioeconomic status and even maternal psychological distress.
While researchers don’t necessarily know the why of this correlation, Dr. Speyer believes it may have something to do with the release of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ when it comes to reducing stress and improving mood in children. Additionally, breast milk as fatty acids that help with strong brain development. Dr. Speyer believes there’s more work to be done to see what other implications may be known, but that we should continue to look at how to promote the purpose and efficacy of breastfeeding children.
Few, if any, research projects look at behavior into adolescence with regard to their early breastfeeding days, and Dr. Speyer says that continued research will most likely bring more findings and benefits for social and emotional strength in adolescence.
Again, we want to stress that we understand limitations may occur that would hinder a mother’s breastfeeding journey, but research like this that encourages better public health and awareness may result in better support for all mothers, particularly ones who struggle with nursing.