Breastfed children found to have fewer behavior problems

May 26, 2011

Breastfed babies have fewer behavioral problems, as reported by parents, at 5 years of age than formula-fed infants, according to a British study published online May 9 in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

Breastfed babies have fewer behavioral problems, as reported by parents, at 5 years of age than formula-fed infants, according to a British study published online May 9 in Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

The study used the parent-completed Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to assess behavior in 10,037 children (9,525 term and 512 preterm) of Caucasian ethnic background from the Millennium Cohort Study, a survey of infants born in the United Kingdom in 2000 and 2001. Researchers combined SDQ results with interview data on whether and how long mothers had breastfed to examine the association between breastfeeding duration and abnormal SDQ scores at 5 years of age in term and preterm children separately.

Fewer children who were breastfed for at least 4 months (6%) had abnormal scores than formula-fed children (16%).“The findings suggest that, at least in term children, longer duration of breastfeeding is associated with fewer parent-rated behavior problems in children aged 5 years,” the authors conclude.

Further, fewer children born at term (12%) than perterm children (15%) had abnormal SDQ scores. Preterm children showed a general association between longer duration of breastfeeding and lower odds of an abnormal total SDQ score and subscores, but effect estimates were imprecise. Children who were breastfed exclusively were about as likely to have an abnormal SDQ score as children who were breastfed for any length of time.

The researchers speculate that their results might be attributable to the presence in breast milk of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, growth factors, and hormones that influence neurologic development; increased interaction during breastfeeding between mother and child; and enhanced learning of acceptable behaviors.