An Australian study showed that children who are breastfed for longer than six months could be at lower risk of mental health problems later in life. Breastfeeding could help babies cope better with stress, and may also signal a stronger mother-child attachment, benefits which may last, say researchers at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth.
The study looked at over 2,300 children, each undergoing a mental health assessment at 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years of age. Eleven percent were never breastfed, 38 percent were breastfed for less than six months, and just over half were breastfed for six months or longer.
Mothers who breastfed for less than six months were younger, less educated, poorer, and more stressed, and were also more likely to be smokers, than the moms who breastfed for longer. They were also more likely to suffer from postpartum depression, and their babies were more likely to have growth problems.
The children who were breastfed for the shortest amount of time had the worst behavior. This was qualified as internalizing behavior, in which negativity is directed inwards, for example depression; and in externalizing behaviors, such as aggression.
Behavior improved successively for every additional month of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for six months or longer had the most positive behavioral results with regard to mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. The results were adjusted for social, economic and psychological factors as well as early life events.
I like this study as I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding. My eldest daughter was breastfed for two years, and my 15-month-old is still on the breast. And I’m certain of the many health benefits attached to the practice. It doesn’t surprise me that breastfed children feel more secure, I mean, think about it: The suckling/oxytocin response is as much security blanket as it is food cart. It allows baby to know that there is a nurturing protector there when they need support. And it’s instinctual. Deny that to Junior and I’d expect him or her to be…well…unsure.
No guilt trip on moms who have opted out early, really. It’s just that breastfeeding provides one more benefit to those who choose it for their young, that’s all. However, if you are a mom to be and on the fence about it–just know that mental well-being and self-assuredness later in life is one more thing you can help provide your kid with a year at the boob.