MONDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Breast-feeding, a practice
already linked with many health benefits, could help a child become
more upwardly mobile as an adult, British researchers report.
"Breast-feeding has lifelong benefits," said study author Amanda Sacker, a researcher at the University College London. "Breast-feeding not only gives children a good start in life, but also boosts chances of a healthy and successful adulthood. For most women, breast-feeding offers them a simple way to improve their child's life chances."
The study was published online June 24 in the
Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Sacker and her team looked at data from the British Cohort
Studies, comparing two groups of children: One included more than
17,000 babies born in 1958; the other included more than 16,000
infants born in 1970.
While 68 percent of the mothers breast-fed the children born in
1958, only 36 percent of the mothers who gave birth in 1970 did.
The children were grouped into three categories: never breast-fed,
breast-fed for less than four weeks; and breast-fed for at least
All the children were tracked into adulthood and, at multiple
time points, were interviewed, tested for brain development and
given medical exams.
For this analysis, Sacker said, the researchers weighed many
factors, including a parents' social class when the child was born.
Social class was defined on a scale ranging from unskilled or
semi-skilled manual to professional and managerial. They also took
into account the fact that some groups of women may be less likely
to breast-fed and some may have different levels of education.
Then, they looked at those children who became upwardly mobile
adults. Upward mobility was defined as a social class higher than
what the father's social class was when the child was 10 or 11.
Downwardly mobile was the opposite.
According to their findings, breast-feeding increased the odds
of upward mobility by 24 percent, Sacker said, and reduced the odds
of downward mobility by about 20 percent for both those born in
1958 and in 1970.
It did seem, she added, that the longer children were
breast-fed, the higher the odds of upward social mobility.
The study does not prove cause-and-effect, Sacker noted, and it
is not clear which aspect of breast-feeding is most beneficial,
physical contact or the nutrients in breast milk. The nutrients aid
growth and brain development, she said, which in turn can lead to
better thinking and reasoning skills and eventually more success in
life as an adult. The contact promotes bonding, also healthy for
The new study echoes results found in British research that was
published in 2007. In that study, researchers followed 1,400 babies
born in 1937 to 1939 for 60 years, and also found breast-fed babies
were more likely to move up in social class.
The findings from the new study make sense, said Dr. Dennis Woo,
former chair of pediatrics at the UCLA Medical Center, in Santa
Other studies have shown multiple health benefits for breast-fed
children, he said, including intellectual benefits.
However, he cautioned that parents shouldn't think
breast-feeding is a guarantee of upward social mobility for their
baby. "It would be simplistic to think that one factor is
responsible for success in life," he said.
To learn more about the benefits of breast-feeding, visit
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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