Prolonged breastfeeding may be connected to fewer child behaviour problems

Breastfeeding for four months or more is associated with fewer behavioural problems in children at age 5, an Oxford University study suggests.

The findings, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, add to the evidence base on the benefits of breastfeeding.

"Our results provide even more evidence for the benefits of breast feeding," 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."

There are a number of well-known health benefits of breast feeding: for example, breastfed babies have lower rates of infections and mothers have a reduced risk of breast cancer. A range of other health and child development benefits have also been suggested – such as higher IQ, fewer behavioural problems and lower levels of obesity – but the evidence for these can be inconsistent across different studies.

The researchers from the University of Oxford, along with colleagues from the Institute of Social and Economic Research (University of Essex), University College London and the University of York, set out to investigate associations between the duration of any breastfeeding and child behaviour at age 5 years.

"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 of Oxford University.