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Breast-fed babies 'better behaved'

New research has revealed that breast feeding can help babies grow into more emotionally stable and better behaved children than bottle feeding.

Children aged five who had been breast-fed were almost a third less likely act out in a severe manner that was disruptive to the family unit.

Behavioural problems, including neediness, anxiety, hyperactivity or lying and stealing, were more commonly displayed by youngsters who had been given bottled milk formula.

Scientists believe the link between better behaviour and breast feeding could be from the bond that develops between mother and child, or the type of fatty acids that are present in the woman's milk.

The data, from a survey relating to 10,000 infants born in the UK over a 12-month period between 2000 and 2001, were analysed by the researchers.

In total, 29% of children born after a full-term pregnancy, and 21% of those born prematurely, were breast fed for at least four months.

Parents were asked to complete Strength and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQs) designed to assess the behaviour of their children via a scoring system.

The results showed that 16% of formula-fed children and 6% of breast-fed children were given abnormal scores indicating behavioural problems.

For full-term babies, the pattern persisted after taking account of influences such as social and economic background and parental factors.

The evidence for a link between breastfeeding and fewer behavioural problems in premature children was unclear.

Writing in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr Maria Quigley from Oxford University and colleagues 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."

Two likely explanations were given for the results.

One was that breast milk contains long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and other chemicals that aid brain development. However, it was probable that the children in the study were fed baby formula supplemented by essential fatty acids, said the researchers.

The other theory was that breastfeeding leads to more interaction and bonding between mother and child which may affect learned behaviour.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

Archives of Disease in Childhood

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I have 2 daughters. Thanks to poor support and bad advice, my eldest was not breast fed but my youngest was for 17 months. They behave well generally but each have their moments! What's needed is not more evidence that breastfeeding is vastly superior to formula, but more education, advice, support and time to spend with new mums getting it right. The majority of mums want to breastfeed but fail because of poorly trained professionals giving the wrong information" - Cathy, Manchester

"Further to Katie's comments - what age were the mothers in the study? Equally, could it be that the fatty acids in breast milk are more easily assimilated than those in formula?" - Esther Murray, London

"I absolutely agree and am amazed by the research. My son was breast-fed and my daughter wouldn't take the breast, she doesn't have bad behaviour but is very anxious and has had confidence and abandonment issues throughout her life" -
Dorothy Lever, Bradford

"Is this just a corrolation or has a causal relationship been proven?" - Cameron Glass, Australia

"We know that for a long time, ie since the introduction of Guigoz, Nido etc, they use to call 'badly' behaving children as 'fed by bottles'! That was in Iraq during the 60s and later" - Dr Auda, London

"Do the studies allow for the possibility that mothers who choose to breastfeed may go back to work later, are possibly better educated about child development (in that they choose to breastfeed) etc?" - Katie, London