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Mental Health and Emotional Development

Infant health research

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These studies look at the effects of breastfeeding on children’s mental health, behaviour and emotional development.

A Future for the World’s Children?

A major new report commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), Unicef and The Lancet details new risks and solutions related to child health and wellbeing. This commission took more than two years to develop and reflects combined knowledge from 40 child health experts from around the world. The importance of close and loving relationships between parents and babies was evidenced in the report, highlighting the effects of early nurturing on later development in children:

“Beginning with the maternal-infant dyad, the child’s biological and developmental trajectory is ideally set in the context of nurturing relationships. The rights, freedoms, and entitlements of children can only be advanced when the entitlements of their mothers and care givers are realised. Moves to promote gender equality will improve nurturing care in the early years of life.”  

The need to get babies off to a good start and how that effects on development and growth is also supported within the report:

“Evidence from longitudinal studies reports that the benefits of healthy childhood development extend to older ages: birth weight, infant growth, and peak physical and cognitive capacities in childhood are associated with or predictive of older adults’ physical and cognitive capacities, muscle strength, bone mass, lens opacity, hearing capacity, skin thickness, and life expectancy.”

Clark H et al. (2020), A future for the world’s children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet commission 

Older research

  • Maternal-child interaction and emotional development

Licate, M., Kristen, S. & Sodian, B. (2015). Mother–Child Interaction as a Cradle of Theory of Mind: The Role of Maternal Emotional Availability. Social Development, DOI: 10.1111/sode.12131

  • Breastfeeding duration and emotional attachment

Jackson, D (2016), The Association Between Breastfeeding Duration and Attachment: A Genetically Informed Analysis, Breastfeeding Medicine,  doi:10.1089/bfm.2016.0036

  • Impact of breastfeeding on child behaviour

Katriina Heikkilä, Amanda Sacker, Yvonne Kelly, Mary Renfrew, Maria Quigley. Breast feeding and child behaviour in the Millennium Cohort Study. Arch Dis Child 2011; doi:10.1136/adc.2010.201970

Related research and further reading

Research on Brain and Cognitive Development

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The impact of breastfeeding on maternal and child health: Acta Paediatrica special issue

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The Lancet: Increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent over 800,000 child deaths every year

Read more