A research involving 1 536 children from rural South Africa and published in the peer-reviewed open journal PLOS Medicine has found a significant link between breastfeeding exclusively up to the age of six months and a reduction in both cognitive and emotional behavioural disorders.
The study was conducted by a team including local academics and led by Dr Ruth M Bland of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow.
Researcher Dr Tamsen Rochat said: ‘The duration of exclusive breastfeeding of an infant has greater importance than previously realised in several areas of development.
‘For example, childhood onset conduct disorders can lead to aggressive or disruptive behaviours, which interfere with learning and peer relationships, in turn leading to low self-esteem and further behavioural problems.
‘Conduct disorders that start in childhood and persist into the teen years are associated with an increase in antisocial (and potentially violent or criminal) behaviours, poor long-term mental health and low academic achievement in later life.’
It is estimated that the annual cost of crime related to people who had conduct disorders in childhood was $117 billion.
Dr Ruth Bland, of Glasgow University, added: ‘Evidence from studies in high-income countries suggests that the economic cost of conduct disorders is enormous.’
She cited previous research which suggests that the crime caused by people who had conduct disorders as children costs $67 billion a year globally.
Dr Peter Singer, chief executive of Grand Challenges Canada which funded the study, said: ‘This study shows how who parents can help develop smart, social kids who make good decisions: breastfeed babies.’
Unicef warns that child obesity, diabetes and infections could all be significantly reduced if more mothers could be persuaded to breastfeed.
Women themselves would also benefit, with breast cancer rates reduced among mothers who had breastfed their children.