Babies who were breast-fed until at least four months of age had fewer behavioral problems reported by their parents at five years of life.
That’s the conclusion of a July, 2011 study published in Archives of Diseases of Childhood. Investigators reviewed data from about 9500 babies, born at term. At nine months of age, their parents completed a survey about feeding practices. Then, when the children grew to 5 years of age, a questionnaire was completed to find out which children had behavior problems (as judged by their parents.) Babies whose parents recalled nursing for at least four months were about a third less likely to have conduct or emotional problems.
The study gives us yet another good reason to encourage nursing, but it also illustrates some interesting limitations of these sorts of “looking backward,” or retrospective studies. We don’t know, actually, if the nursing caused the protection against behavior problems — perhaps there was some other factor at play. For instance, perhaps babies who were fussy and demanding were less likely to be successfully nursed, and those babies went on to be more likely to have behavior problems when they were older. In that case, though the lack of nursing and later problems are correlated, they’re not causal.
Also, we don’t have any way to separate the chemical or nutritional aspects of nursing with the attachment and process of nursing. Is it the milk itself, or the way the babies were held to nurse, or other differences in the way nursing and bottle-feeding mothers respond to their babies’ needs?
Though we don’t know exactly how nursing could help prevent behavior problems based on this study, it does seem to be another potential benefit to add to the overwhelming evidence that for almost all babies, breast is best.
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