Longer breastfeeding could mean better mental health for the baby, says new Australian study.
Children who are breastfed for longer than six months have a lower risk of mental health problems as they enter their teen years, say scientists from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth.
The research, led by Associate Professor Wendy Oddy, will be published in the next edition of the Journal of Pediatrics
Dr Oddy said breastfeeding for a longer duration appears to have significant benefits for the mental health of the child into adolescence.
"There has been much evidence about the benefits of early breastfeeding, but the importance of this study is that it shows continued benefits from extended feeding," Dr Oddy said.
"Given the rising prevalence of mental health problems, interventions to assist mothers to breastfeed, and to breastfeed for longer, could be of long term benefit to the community.
"As with any of these types of studies, it should be stressed that the findings do not mean that individual children that weren't breastfed will have mental health problems, it's about lowering the risk at a population level."
The research team analysed data from more than 2000 children involved in Western Australia's Raine Study. Just over half were breastfed for six months or longer, 38 per cent were breastfed for less than six months, eleven per cent were not breastfed.
The participants underwent a mental health assessment when they were 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years old.
At each of the assessments, the researcher team found a link between breastfeeding duration and behaviour. For each additional month of breastfeeding, the behaviour score improved. This remained valid after adjustment for socio-economic, social and other factors impacting on parenting.
Dr Oddy said breastfeeding could help babies cope better with stress.
"There are a number of ways extended breastfeeding could assist child development. We know that breast milk is packed full of nutrients that help with the rapid brain development that occurs in the early years. It might also signal a strong mother-child attachment and these benefits may last."