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Longer nursing may Aid in Kid’s Mental Health

Posted Feb 16 2010 9:38pm

breastfeeding duration

By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist

Mum Mum’s recently reported that the UK sent researchers out to discover why breastfeeding rates and duration lengths remain low in that country, particularly when current research touts numerous health benefits to both mother and baby. Although many women initiate breastfeeding, the duration of breastfeeding remains lower than health experts would like to see of a minimum of 6 months. A recent study found that there is further reason to encourage longer breastfeeding duration as it may improve a baby’s mental health.

MSNBC reported the Australian study which discovered children who are breastfed longer than 6 months could be at a lower risk for mental health issues later in life. Researchers theorize that breastfeeding may help a child cope better with stress as well as solidify a stronger mother-child bond which benefits the child into adolescence.

The study, conducted by Dr. Wendy H. Oddy and colleagues of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth, examined 2, 366 children enrolled in the Western Australia Pregnancy Cohort Study. The children underwent mental health assessments at 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years of age.

Of the children in the study, 11% were not breastfed, 38% were breastfed for less than 6 months, and approximately half were breastfed for 6 months or longer. Data from the mothers was also collected noting that the mothers who nursed for 6 months or less were poorer, less educated, and with greater stress levels than the mothers who breastfed longer. These same mothers also had a higher likelihood of post partum depression and their babies were more likely to have growth problems.

At each of the assessment points, researchers found the children who breastfed for shorter periods of time had worse behavior. The unfavorable behavior predominately exhibited in the children was directing negative behavior inwards, or internalizing, such as depression or outward acts like aggression. For each additional month a child was breastfed, behaviors improved.

After economic, social, physiological factors, and early life events were adjusted for; breastfeeding 6 months or longer was positively associated with the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. In conclusion, researchers noted: “Interventions aimed at increasing breastfeeding duration could be of long-term benefit for child and adolescent mental health.”

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