SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Children who are breastfed for longer than six months could be at lower risk of mental health problems later in life, according to Australian research.
A study by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth looked at 2,366 children born to women enrolled in a pregnancy study in the state of Western Australia.
Each of the children underwent a mental health assessment when they were aged two, five, eight, 10, and 14.
The researchers found that breastfeeding could help babies cope better with stress and may signal a stronger mother-child attachment which could provide lasting benefits.
“Breastfeeding for a longer duration appears to have significant benefits for the onward mental health of the child into adolescence,” researcher Dr. Wendy Oddy, who led the study, wrote in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Of the children in the study, 11 percent were never breastfed, 38 percent were breastfed for less than six months, and just over half were breastfed for six months or longer.
The mothers who breastfed for less than six months were younger, less educated, poorer, and more stressed, and were also more likely to be smokers than the mothers who breastfed longer.
They were also more likely to suffer from postpartum depression and their babies more likely to have growth problems.
At each of the assessments, the researchers found children who were breastfed for shorter periods of time had worse behavior which could translate into aggression or depression.
But for each additional month a child was breastfed, behavior improved.
The researchers said breastfeeding for six months or longer remained positively associated with the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents even after adjustments for social, economic and psychological factors as well as early life events.
“Interventions aimed at increasing breastfeeding duration could be of long-term benefit for child and adolescent mental health,” the researchers concluded.
Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith