Babies Breast-fed Until Six Months ‘Better Behaved As Children’
Experts now realise breastfeeding has benefits for IQ and cognitive skills
Babies who are breast-fed until the age of six months are better behaved as children, researchers have found. Experts monitored the behaviour of 1500 children aged between seven and 11. They found those who had only been breastfed for the first month of their life, or less, were twice as likely to display behavioural problems than those who were breastfed until six months. The research, led by Glasgow University experts and carried out among children in South Africa, suggests breastfeeding has benefits that extend beyond physical health. Experts have long advised that babies are fed with breast milk for at least six months, where possible, with proven benefits including a stronger immune system, improved digestive system, and lower risk of certain forms of cancer.
But experts are beginning to realise that breastfeeding also has benefits for IQ, cognitive skills, and behaviour. The NHS suggests women should feed their babies exclusively with breast milk until they are at least six months old, and then continue breastfeeding while gradually introducing other food. Women are advised by the NHS: “The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.” Researcher Dr Tamsen Rochat, of the Human Science Research Council in South Africa, whose work is published in the journal
PLOS Medicine, said: “The duration of exclusive breastfeeding of an infant has greater importance than previously realised in several areas of development. “For example, childhood onset conduct disorders can lead to aggressive or disruptive behaviours, which interfere with learning and peer relationships, in turn leading to low self-esteem and further behavioural problems.”
Dr Peter Singer, chief executive of Grand Challenges Canada which funded the study, said: “This study shows how who parents can help develop smart, social kids who make good decisions: breastfeed babies.”
Unicef warns that child obesity, diabetes and infections could all be significantly reduced if more mothers could be persuaded to breastfeed. Women themselves would also benefit, with breast cancer rates reduced among mothers who had breastfed their children.
Women should feed their babies exclusively with breast milk until they are at least six months old, experts say.