Women’s Health Today

Lifelong effects of breastfeeding on mental health

Early life experiences set the stage for physical health in later life. Reducing early toxic stress is key to preventing disease in adults (Shonkoff, 2016).

Breastfeeding is one important way to decrease early toxic stress. Recent studies have shown that breastfeeding increases babies’ physical and mental well-being, and these effects go well beyond the composition of the milk. Maternal responsiveness is key to understanding these long-term effects. When mothers consistently respond to their babies’ cues, they set the stage for lifelong resiliency in their offspring. And responsiveness is built into the breastfeeding relationship. We see this reflected in children’s mental health.

In one study of 2,900 mother-infant pairs, breastfeeding for one year was associated with better child mental health at every age up to age 14 (Oddy et al., 2009). Longer duration of breastfeeding was associated with better child…

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