Breastfed babies make happier adults?

British Researchers at the University of Manchester, England, have released a terrific new study that draws a correlation between breastfed babies and happy adults. I say “correlation” because in typical sloppy research fashion, the researchers appear to have identified two factors, correlated them, and then presented them as causal. I imagine that the research is true, but ….

Anyway, you probably don’t want to bump into the dark murky background of my Research Methodologies class from grad school, so I’ll continue talking about the research instead, okay? 🙂
The research project is based on the British Cohort Study, which has tracked over 17,000 people who were born during a specific week in 1970. Mothers were then interviewed about their breastfeeding practices during the first three months (not first year? Ah well, it’s a start), then followup interviews were conducted in 1986 (the babies were then 16 year old youths), in 1996 (when they were 26) and in 2000 (when they turned 30).
In typical wry British fashion, the questionnaire they used is called the “Malaise Inventory” and it measures both psychological well-being and stress levels. What’s interesting is that the results suggest that the benefits for boys are greater in that they had markedly lower stress levels than their peers.
A few good quotes from this report on the research:

“It supports the advice that breastfeeding is protective in terms of physical well-being, cognitive well-being and now psychological well-being, as late as 30 years after the breastfeeding,” says Dr. Iracema Leroi, honourary lecturer and consultant psychiatrist at the University of Manchester in England.
“Breastfeeding confers many advantages to infant health, such as increased size and growth, and it’s possible those may contribute to psychological well-being. We also know that breast milk itself has certain immune factors which may be protective,” says lead investigator Dr. Joseph Meagher of the university’s department of government.
The psychological benefits of breastfeeding in infancy, such as bonding between mother and child, may also contribute to better psychological well-being, he says.

In general, I think this is a great additional feather in the cap of those of us that support breastfeeding – and extended breastfeeding in particular – but there’s one paragraph in the report I have to complain about nonetheless:

“Leroi says it is difficult to know why the protective effect on mental health is greater in males. “Females tend to be more vulnerable to depression than males, and it could be that the breastfeeding wasn’t enough to offset that, (and) therefore females were still more vulnerable than males.”

I’m sorry, Professor Leroi, did you say you were a scientist? This is a difficult to accept, completely unsupported theory you posit, and it really doesn’t seem to fit into the data.

2 comments on “Breastfed babies make happier adults?

  1. We all know that correlation does not equal causation. But even if this study is not very scientific, there are so many immediate benefits of breastfeeding that I know it has to be best.
    There’s nothing like the satisfaction I get when I snuggle my baby to my breast and I am able to give her something no one else in the world can give her.
    Besides the bonding, it just seems so much more convenient to breastfeed rather than bottlefeed. Call me lazy, but, I can’t imagine having to deal with the hassle of mixing formula and sterilizing bottles.

  2. having breastfed four children and knowing all the benefits I think the research is good. But, as far as scientific you are right. There are many studies out there that prove a whole lot more.

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