Could breastfeeding do more than help your baby grow into a healthy child? A new British study suggests so: it appears that children who are breastfed have a better chance of climbing the social ladder and are also more likely to become more successful than their parents.
Published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the study involved two cohorts: the first one included over 17 400 children born in 1958 while almost 16 800 participants born in 1970 enrolled in the other group.
The researchers compared the participants’ social class as children — based on the fathers’ job when the children were 10 or 11 — to their own social class as 33 or 34 year-old adults. They also had the children do cognitive and stress tests when they were 10 or 11.
A breastfed baby has a 24% higher chance of moving up the social ranks and a 20% lower risk of being downwardly mobile (having a worse job than the father) compared to one who isn’t breastfed. The same findings were observed in the two cohorts although the babies were born 12 years apart. The researchers also noted that breastfed children show fewer signs of stress.
The scientists explained that breastfeeding boosts brain development which improves intellect that, in turn, positively affects future social hierarchy.
However, the authors reported that they could not pinpoint exactly whether the observed benefits were due to the nutrients in the breast milk or the close contact and emotional bonding that occur during breastfeeding.
They suggest that “the combination of physical contact and the most appropriate nutrients required for growth and brain development is implicated in the better neurocognitive and adult outcomes of breastfed infants.”
With regards to breastfeeding, the researchers found that the vast majority of mothers (68%) breastfed in 1958 compared to only 36% in 1970.
The WHO and the NHS both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. This can be followed by a combination of pureed foods plus the mother’s milk until the baby is two.
Need more convincing?
Still unsure whether to breastfeed or not? Then you may want to know that a baby who is breastfed is less likely to suffer from:
- Painful ear and chest infections;
- Urinary tract infections;
- Necrotising enterocolitis (a gastrointestinal disease);
- Constipation, diarrhoea and vomiting;
- Childhood leukaemia.
Research also suggests that breastfed babies are less likely to become obese or develop diabetes later in life.
Can breastfeeding benefit the mother? Well, studies show that women who have breastfed are less vulnerable to hip fractures and cancers of the breast and ovaries.
What if you can’t breastfeed?
Then establish an emotional bond between you and your baby while bottle feeding. Skin-to-skin contact and cuddling with your little one will help the baby feel happy and stress-free — this will help promote optimal development.
Sacker et al (2013) Breast feeding and intergenerational social mobility: what are the mechanisms? Arch Dis Child. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2012-303199
UNICEF. The Baby Friendly Initiative. Breastfeeding research - An overview (Accessed July 2013).