Breastfeeding Less than 6 Months Shows Decreases in Mental Health

By Danelle Frisbie

A study conducted at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has found that babies who are breastfed less than the minimum recommended 6 months have significantly reduced mental health later in childhood.

During this study, the feeding, growth, development, and mental health of over 2500 West Australian children was tracked for 16 years. Children were assessed at the ages of 2, 6, 8, and 10 years of age.

Dr. Wendy Oddy, who was in charge of the study, highlights research findings that demonstrate the bioactive factors in breastmilk play a vital role in the fast paced early brain development occurring in the first years of life.

The majority of brain development is completed within the first 24 months after the birth of a full-term baby who triggers labor in his own time (babies that are induced, electively sectioned, or born prematurely often need longer for this period of rapid brain growth to catch up). In fact, by 2 years of age, a full-term baby's brain is about 85% that of an adult brain. By the age of 5 years old, 98% of the brain has completed its development. Research suggests that this is the reason natural child-led weaning (without outside cultural pressures on mom or baby) tends to also occur around the age of 5. After all, "breastmilk does a brain good!" Historically, anthropological records demonstrate that even those living on our modern day American soil typically breastfed until the age of 5.

While the researchers involved in this study would surely support child-led weaning, what they really hope to see are parents appreciating the very real benefits of breastfeeding for any additional amount of time.

Children who breastfed for less than 6 months had a 52% higher risk of developing a mental health problem at the age of 2; a 55% increased risk of a mental health problem at the age of 6; and a whopping 61% higher risk of mental illness at the age of 8. At the age of 10, the risk of mental health for children who were breastfed less than 6 months was 37% higher than babies breastfed for longer than 6 months.

"Even when we adjust the results to take into account other factors such as the parents' socio-economic situation, their education, their happiness, and family functioning, we see that children who were breastfed longer than 6 months are at a significantly lower risk of mental health problems," Dr. Oddy said.

Children in the study who breastfed longer than 6 months had significantly lower rates of anti-social disorder, aggressive and/or violent behavior, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, delinquency, and acting-out. "These results are powerful evidence for more support to be given to mothers to help them breastfeed longer," Oddy reported.

Moral of the story? Breastfeed just a little bit longer. Even if it is just one more month - you are giving your child a lifetime worth of benefits.

For more on brain development and neuro science as it relates to breastfeeding and other parenting choices, see Why Love Matters and The Science of Parenting.

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Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Kahn

The Effects of Circumcision on Breastfeeding

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Nipplephobia: When Mammals May Not Feed Their Young

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  1. holy moly what a list! If that can't convince people that human milk is the right food for babies, what will?

  2. I love the Toddlers Need Mama Milk Too!



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