University Of Oxford LogoRemember the recent study that linked breastfeeding to better performance of kids at school? Well, it appears like there’s more to breastfeeding than just that. According to a new Oxford University study, prolonged breastfeeding could be related to much less behavioral issues for children aged 5. Breastfeeding otherwise too is known to have many health benefits right from lower rates of infections among babies to reduced chances of breast cancer for mothers.

The concordance was investigated by scientists from the University of Oxford together with the University College London, University of Essex and the University of York. A nationwide survey that included infants born in the 12-month duration between 2001 and 2001 known as Millennium Cohort Study was used for the analysis. The data comprised of home interviews with parents at the time their children were 9 months old and a follow-up of the same approximately every two years.

“Our results provide even more evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding,” says Maria Quigley of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, who led the work with Katriina Heikkilä. “Mothers who want to breastfeed should be given all the support they need. Many women struggle to breastfeed for as long as they might otherwise like, and many don’t receive the support that might make a difference.”

In addition to this, the scientists incorporated data for more than 9,500 mothers and babies born at full term, from white ethnic background. Responses from the initial interview was used to know if mothers had breastfed and for how long. A combination of these data along with the results of a conventional questionnaire to recognize behavioral problems if any in the children were then used. Children who figured in the upper 10% were shown as having an abnormal rating. In the questionnaire, abnormal scores could imply to a host of problems from emotional, conduct and/or hyperactivity.

“We found that children who were breastfed for at least four months were less likely to have behavioural problems at age 5,” says Maria Quigley. “However, that observation might not have been the direct result of breastfeeding – it could have been down to a number of factors. As a group, mothers who breastfed for four months were very different socially to those who formula fed. They were more likely to be older, better educated and in a higher socio-economic position, on average.”

As per the raw figures, nearly 16.1% of babies fed formula showed abnormal scores by the time they were 5. Among the babies who had been breastfed for a minimum of four months, the abnormal score was 6.5%. It is important to note that the two groups of mothers and children were different across many factors. This included education and socio-economic position, mother’s age etc. There are high chances of breastfeeding apparently acting as a proxy for something else resulting in a significant difference in the rate of behavioral problems among children.

The analysis was tweaked to take into account all the possible factors. It was observed that still children who had been breastfed for at least four months had about 30% lesser chances of showing behavioral problems when five.

Maria Quigley additionally mentions, “We just don’t know whether it is because of the constituents in breast milk which are lacking in formula, or the close interaction with the mum during breastfeeding, or whether it is a knock-on effect of the reduced illness in breastfed babies. But it does begin to look like we can add fewer behavioural problems as another potential benefit of breastfeeding.”

The investigation appeared to have excluded mothers and children who belonged to non-white and mixed-ethnic groups. Moreover, a relatively large number of mothers in these groups were unable to finish the questionnaire about child behavior. This posed a problem for representation of the data for these groups.

The findings have been published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal.