Breastfeeding and child behaviour in the Millennium Cohort Study

Baby Friendly Initiative Research News - May 2011

A new study on breastfeeding and its association with behavioural problems has received widespread coverage in the media today.

 Researchers, using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, have found that babies who are breastfed are less likely to become children with behaviour problems by the time they reach the age of five than those who receive formula milk.

 A total of 10,037 mother–child pairs from white ethnic background (9,525 term and 512 preterm children) were included in the analyses. Duration of any breastfeeding was ascertained from parental interview at study baseline, when the children were aged 9 months. They used a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) completed by the parents to score children and identify potential behavioural problems, defined as “inappropriate behaviours that occur repeatedly over a period of time, have a negative impact on the child's development and interfere with the child's or their family's everyday life." These can include emotional (e.g. clinginess, anxiety), hyperactivity (e.g. restlessness), and conduct (e.g. lying and stealing), by the time the child was aged five.

 The authors found that abnormal scores for the questionnaires, which indicate potential behavioural problems, were less common in children breastfed for at least four months (6%) than in formula-fed children (16%). The lower risk of a full-term breastfed child having abnormal scores for behaviour were also noted even when the researchers took into account other influences such as socio-economic or parental factors.

 The authors concluded: “Our findings suggest that longer duration of breastfeeding (at all or exclusively) is associated with having fewer parent-rated behavioural problems in term children.”

 Katriina Heikkilä, Amanda Sacker, Yvonne Kelly, Mary Renfrew, Maria Quigley. Breast feeding and child behaviour in the Millennium Cohort Study. Arch Dis Child 2011; doi:10.1136/adc.2010.201970

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