June 25, 2013
Benefits Of Breastfeeding Include Greater Occupational And Social Mobility
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The study, which included over 34,000 people born in the United Kingdom in either 1958 or 1970, found children who had been breastfed were 24 percent more likely to advance in social class – and 20 percent less likely to drop in social stature.
“There are few studies that look at the long-term outcomes of breastfeeding, but this study shows its long-lasting positive effect,” study co-author Amanda Sacker, a director of health studies at University College London, told The Independent.
The two study cohorts were categorized by their father’s occupation when they were 10 or 11 and their own job when they were 33 or 34. The four categories included unskilled and semi-skilled manual labor to professional or managerial occupations. The researchers also followed up on a wide range of other factors, such as the children's cognitive development and stress levels, which were assessed using clinical tests at the ages of 10 to 11.
The UK-based research team discovered children born in 1958 were much more likely to be breastfed than those born in 1970, 68 percent compared to 36 percent of infants. They also noted opportunities for upward mobility in UK society have grown in number, with those born in 1970 having a better shot at moving up and less likely to drop in social class than those born in 1958. However, when confounding factors were considered, breastfed children consistently showed they were more likely to have ascended the social ladder than individuals who were not breastfed.
Despite cultural differences between the two time periods, the positive social impact of breastfeeding was the same, researchers said. They also found breastfeeding enhanced brain development, and breastfed children also showed lower stress levels. The study authors noted, however, it is difficult to identify the reason behind breastfeeding’s greatest benefits; specifically, whether it is the nutrients found in breast milk or the mother-child bonding that occurs with that type of contact.
"Perhaps 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," they suggest.
Sacker added mothers who are unable to breastfeed could still help their child’s emotional and mental development by having skin-to-skin contact with their baby while bottle feeding.
The UK-based study comes after statistics recently showed the practice of breastfeeding has dropped in that country for the first time in a decade. Sacker noted economic demands have forced women back to work sooner than in previous years, resulting in less opportunity to breastfeed their infants. She suggested employers could offer new mothers more support at the workplace, such as providing spaces where babies could be breastfed.
Other studies on more recent data have shown many women start breastfeeding their children, but stop doing so after five or six weeks.