While the researchers report they do not believe breastfeeding itself translates into better stress-management habits, they theorize the bond developed between mother and child during the close physical contact may make the child feel more secure. Subsequently, this feeling may develop into an improved ability to handle stress later in life.
During the study, researchers asked teachers to rate their pupils' anxiety levels on a scale of zero to 50. Then, the parents were interviewed about any major family disruptions that may have occurred in the children's lives between the ages of 5 and 10, such as divorce or separation. The team took into account factors such as maternal depression, parental education levels, social class, and smoking habits.
The children whose parents had divorced or separated were rated with higher anxiety levels. However, while breastfed children were twice as likely to be affected by stress, bottle-fed babies were nearly ten times more likely to be stressed by parental separation or divorce.
"This study uncovers another potential advantage associated with breastfeeding," said Rosie Dodds of the National Childbirth Trust. Health experts say that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of allergic reactions such as eczema and asthma for babies, and lower breast cancer risk for mothers.
"There is also some evidence that mothers who are breastfeeding are able to cope better with some types of stress as a result of their hormone balance, and this may make a difference to the baby's developing response to stress," said Dodds.
According to the World Health Organization babies should be fed on mothers' breast milk alone for their first six months.