Are breastfed babies better behaved?

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British researchers have found yet another reason for mothers to breastfeed their babies. A study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood shows that breastfed babies are less likely to develop behavioral problems, such as restlessness, anxiousness and the inability to socialize, by age five. Researchers combined data from 9,500 white mothers and their full-term babies born in 2000 and 2001 with a “strengths and difficulties” questionnaire typically used to identify potential behavioral problems. After taking into account possible confounding influences, such as socioeconomic and parental factors, researchers found that behavioral problems occurred in only 6 percent of the children who were breastfed for at least four months, versus 16 percent of the formula-fed children.

Reasons for these behavioral differences may be attributed to the bonding that occurs between a breastfeeding mother and her child, as well as to the essential long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, growth factors, and hormones in breast milk that are important in brain and nervous system development.

The apparently increased risk of mild behavioral problems found in formula-fed children “may be warning signs for potentially worse problems, but this is not something we’re able to diagnose,” observes ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. And while he agrees that there are many benefits that breastfeeding offers to both mother and child, he acknowledges that “many new mothers simply can’t breastfeed — for a variety of reasons.”