The benefits of breastfeeding babies have long been touted, but a new study has revealed that breastfed babies could go on to earn more as adults.
A study, of 9,000 people and led by Queen’s University Belfast, found that those participants who were breastfed as babies had a 10% higher household income when they were over 50.
Researchers analysed data from the 1958 national child development study, which tracked the participants since birth.
They found that at the age of 50, those who were breastfed in infancy had an average weekly household income of £708, compared to £588 for those who were formula fed.
The income of breastfed babies was calculated to be around 20% higher, but when the results were adjusted to take socio-economic background into account, the increase dropped to 10%.
Scientists said breastfeeding provides nutrients required for “rapid brain development” that are not provided in formula milk.
Now the study authors believe investing in public campaigns to help increase breastfeeding rates could offer long-term benefits to the overall economy thanks to increased earnings.
“Promotional campaigns have highlighted the health benefits of breastfeeding in recent years,” study leader Dr Mark McGovern told Daily Mail.
“However, our research shows that in addition to those benefits, breastfeeding may also have a significant economic impact throughout the life course.
“Our initial results from the study suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in the number of breastfed babies in Northern Ireland [alone] each year could generate around £100million in additional lifetime earnings, of which around £20million could be expected to be collected in the form of tax revenue, which could be partly used for public health campaigns.
“Our concluding results so far in the study show if more babies are breastfed there are likely to be substantial economic returns to the resources invested in these public health campaigns, and women and children could also benefit through improvements in health, cognitive ability, and greater earnings potential.”
The NHS recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies during the first six months, explaining the feeding method has long-term benefits for the baby that last right into adulthood. But breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world.
Currently almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born but by six to eight weeks this drops to just 44%.
But after years of campaigns encouraging women to breastfeed, experts have recently started to warn that new mums could be being placed under too much pressure.
New advice from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) released earlier this year stresses that new mothers should be given appropriate support if they make an informed decision to bottle feed.
The guidance marks a shift in position from previous advice emphasising the ‘risks’ of formula feeding while also focussing on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Though the new advice recommends babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life, in line with advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the RCM has acknowledged some mothers struggle to start or continue breastfeeding.
The decision about how to feed her baby is a woman’s right, the organisation states.
Commenting on the guidance, Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: “Evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby. However the reality is that often some women for a variety of reasons struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding.”
She goes on to say women “should be at the centre of their own care” and midwives and maternity support workers should “promote informed choice.”
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