People who are breastfed as babies go on to earn more as adults, research suggests.
A study of 9,000 people found those who were breastfed in infancy had 10 per cent higher household income when they were over 50.
Scientists believe breastfeeding improves the development of the brain and reduces the risk of allergies and illness.
Yet the UK and the US are known to have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
Most mothers in the UK abandon breast milk very early in their child’s life, turning instead to formula.
Scientists believe breastfeeding improves the development of the brain and reduces the risk of allergies and illness
Only 34 per cent of British children are breastfed until six months, compared to 49 per cent in the US, 50 per cent in Germany and 62 per cent in Switzerland.
And only one in every 200 children in the UK – just 0.5 per cent – are breastfed until the age of 12 months, the lowest level in the world.
The new study, led by Queen’s University Belfast, suggests spending money on public programmes to increase breastfeeding will reap rewards in the long-term.
Researchers said the initial public spending will be recouped by extra money for the economy as earnings rise.
Study leader Dr Mark McGovern said: ‘Promotional campaigns have highlighted the health benefits of breastfeeding in recent years.
‘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 11 COUNTRIES WITH THE HIGHEST RATES OF BREASTFEEDING
THE 10 COUNTRIES WITH THE LOWEST RATES OF BREASTFEEDING
Republic of Korea
The researchers, which included academics from University College London and Cass Business School in London, analysed data from the 1958 national child development study, which tracked the participants since birth.
The researchers found that at the age of 50, those who were breastfed as babies had an average weekly household income of £708, compared to £588 for those who were not – a difference of about 20 per cent.
IS BREAST REALLY BEST?
Breast milk contains antibodies passed on from the mother, which boost a baby’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses.
There is also evidence that breastfed babies have higher IQs and are less at risk of obesity – because formula milk is higher in fat.
Breastfeeding is also deemed beneficial for the mother because it enables her to bond with the newborn.
It also enables her to lose weight, as nursing mothers burn up to 500 calories a day extra.
When the results were adjusted to take account of socio-economic background, the difference dropped to 10 per cent.
The researchers said breastfeeding provides nutrients required for ‘rapid brain development’ – particularly long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are not provided in formula milk.
They added: ‘Other possible mechanisms exist including hormones and growth factors, cholesterol, or some combination of factors.’
The NHS suggests that women should feed their babies exclusively with breast milk until they are at least six months old, and then continue breastfeeding while gradually introducing other food.
But many women struggle to breastfeed for a variety of reasons – including prior illness, low milk supplies or because their baby simply does not take to it.
After years of pre-breastfeeding campaigns, experts have recently started to warn that women are under too much pressure.
Professor Cathy Warwick, former chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said last year: ‘If women don’t breastfeed, I don’t think they should feel guilty.
‘We have to say ‘breast is best’ because it is, but what’s best for the population is maybe different from what’s best for the individual woman, and an individual woman can very successfully bond with their baby and bottle-feed their baby.’