Breastfeeding Leads to Better Mental Health

3211603276_0761c21df0_mRemember just last week when a group of scientists announced that breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily make babies healthier? It may be that the benefits are more mental than physical.

A new Australian study suggests the soothing benefits of nursing longer than 6 months last long past infancy.

The researchers found that babies breastfed longer than 6 months have better mental health outcomes throughout childhood than their bottle-fed peers.

This wasn’t one of those studies that looked at 10 babies and made wild generalizations either. The study included 2,366 children, who received a mental health assessment at ages 2, 5, 8, 10 and 14. At each age, researchers found the children who had been breastfed for less than 6 months were more troubled. They had higher rates of both depressive behaviors and aggressive ones.

It’s not clear the magic of mother’s milk was entirely responsible for the better outcomes. Mothers who breastfed for less than 6 months tended to be less educated, less affluent, younger and more stressed than the moms who stuck with breastfeeding beyond that 6 month mark. Those who gave up breastfeeding before 6 months were also more likely to be smokers and to suffer from post-partum depression.

That said, the researchers stressed that breastfeeding remained “positively correlated” with good behavior and psychological well-being even after social, economic and life history factors had been accounted for.

The Reuters article says that for every month beyond the 6 month mark a child was breastfed, the benefit to their later behavior grew stronger. I’m guessing that at some point you hit diminishing returns on that one. At least, I’d like to believe I did the right thing weaning my five-year-old.

Photo: Angelus Works

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