Babies fed a mix of breastmilk and formula in early life linked to lower risk of special educational needs
11 April 2023
Children who are exclusively breastfed, or fed a mixture of formula and breastmilk, for the first six to eight weeks of life may be at lower risk of having special educational needs and learning disabilities, suggests new research supported by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK).
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The study, led by the University of Glasgow and published in PLOS Medicine, looked at the health and educational data of 191,745 children born in Scotland who attended a state or special needs school between 2009 and 2013. Of the children included in the study, 66.2% were formula fed, 25.3% were breastfed, and 8.5% had a mixture of formula and breast milk for the first six to eight weeks.
When compared with formula feeding, the research showed that early-life mixed feeding and exclusive breastfeeding were both linked to a lower risk of having special educational needs – around 10% and 20% decrease in risk, respectively.
Dr Michael Fleming, who led the study at the University of Glasgow’s School of Health and Wellbeing, said:
“We know that many women struggle to exclusively breastfeed for the full six-months recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), however our study provides evidence that a shorter duration of non-exclusive breastfeeding could nonetheless be beneficial with regards to a child’s learning development.”
The WHO recommends that babies are breastfed for the first six months, but many women struggle to exclusively breastfeed for this long. This study suggests that a shorter duration of non-exclusive breastfeeding may still be beneficial for a child’s later learning development.
However, further research is needed as maternal and paternal factors such as education level, IQ, employment status, ethnicity, or mental and physical health were not explored in this study.