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FRIDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Breast-fed babies are better able to cope with stress later in life than babies who are bottle fed, according to a U.K. study.

Researchers analyzed data on almost 9,000 children at birth, and at ages 5 and 10. The information about the children was gathered from parents, teachers, health workers and midwives.

When the children were 10 years old, their teachers were asked to rate the children's anxiety levels, and their parents were interviewed about major family disruption -- such as divorce or separation -- that occurred when the child was between 5 and 10 years old.

Not surprisingly, high anxiety levels were more common among children whose parents had divorced or separated. However, those who had been breast-fed were much less likely to be anxious than those who had been bottle-fed.

The study found that breast-fed children whose parents had divorced or separated were almost twice as likely to be highly anxious, while bottle-fed children where more than nine times as likely to be highly anxious than other children.

Even when the researchers factored in other possible influences, the findings held true. However, the results don't actually prove that breast-feeding itself helps children cope better with stress, the study authors said. They say it may be a marker of some other maternal or parental factors that influence a child's response to stress.

For example, the quality of physical contact between a mother and her baby during the first few days of life may influence the development of the child's neural and hormonal pathways involved in the stress response.

The authors also suggested that breast-feeding may affect the quality of bonding between mother and child and the way they relate to one another. This may have an enduring effect on the child's anxiety levels in stressful situations.

The study was published online ahead of its appearance in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
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