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Non Breastfed Babies Are Happier - The News Today

Breastfed babies show more challenging temperaments, study finds (Guardian)

BREASTFED BABIES CRY MORE AND SMILE LESS - Breast may be 'best' according to health experts - but breastfeeding also makes babies more irritable and prone to crying according to new research. (Marie Claire)

Is breast really best? Study finds babies fed on formula milk cry less and are easier to get to sleep (Daily Mail)
"It is often said that breast is best. But bottle-fed babies are the best behaved.
A study of British infants found those who were breast-fed cried more, smiled and laughed less and were harder to soothe and get off to sleep than their formula-fed counterparts.
The Cambridge researchers however, say that the irritability linked to breastfeeding is only natural, and not a sign of stress or even necessarily hunger.
Instead, it is the baby’s way of bonding and seeking attention and security." (Daily Mail)
Believe it or not, the study is actually really interesting - the media coverage as usual, is not.

Best behaved?  Studies aside, it's quite sad really how society perceives well behaved babies as those who are the easiest and cause the parents the least amount of effort.  This quote implies breastfed babies are seeking more attention and security than those "well behaved" non breastfed babies.  How many people skim such an article and just take away this key message?  This really is a great example of points raised in my blog yesterday, and the one before!

But lets get started!

Firstly it's a small study group of 316 infants, further divided into breastfed, mixed fed, formula fed - meaning there isn't a huge study group of each, still I think it's worth a read (1).

The study asked mothers of three-month-old babies to assess their "behaviour" (you can read more about exactly how here), which is what is really the interesting bit in studies such as these. It's subjective - how a parent "rates" their baby is open to many influencing factors.

As the NHS points out the study doesn't take into account:
  • factors that influenced the choice of feeding method
  • whether the mother worked
  • other children in the home
  • mother’s educational achievement and their perception of infant temperament

But to be fair, the authors do acknowledge this in the paper: 
"Findings from such observational studies do not provide evidence for causality."
They also acknowledge that studies in this area are contradictory, But what the heck, let's run with it and suppose its correct!

Something the NHS doesn't mention, and which I think is worth noting - is a study from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, April 2011 which found:
"Mothers who feed their babies breast milk exclusively, as opposed to formula, are more likely to bond emotionally with their child during the first few months after delivery.  "The breastfeeding mothers surveyed for the study showed greater responses to their infant's cry in brain regions related to caregiving behavior and empathy than mothers who relied upon formula as the baby's main food source."
As it's these same mothers who are then asked to rate their baby's crying - one would, based on the above expect non breastfeeding mothers to note a lower score perhaps?

If you're asked to rate something on a scale - we have to have a frame of reference for this measurement, something with which to compare.  If you were an alien and had never seen a baby before, had no preconceived ideas about how much babies were meant to cry and were alone somewhere with no one to ask, how could you begin to rate whether crying was 2 or 7?

A scale such as this relies up an automatic, subconscious frame of reference - which may become conscious ie how much does my baby cry compared to X, Y and Z's.  For many breastfeeding mothers, given breastfeeders are the minority - this comparison takes place with non breastfed infants; which, if this study is correct is likely to be significant..  

Now we know breastfeeding is the biological norm, the milk humans are meant to consume - therefore it's pretty safe to say they cry a "normal" amount of time.  The assumption it's "well behaved" not to, according to this study is flawed.  It states:
"Humans often perceive infant crying as stress, but for infant animals irritability is a normal component of signalling to parents. The expression of offspring demand is part of a dynamic signalling system between parents and offspring, and has received much attention from zoologists studying a variety of bird and mammal species."
So crying isn't just about stress, but about signalling - particularly with regard to hunger.  Hmmm so if those not breastfed veer from this normal signalling pattern, is that a good thing?

One argument that has been put forward is that non breastfed babies cry less because they need feeding less frequently (given foreign milk protein is harder to digest and therefore takes longer).

Others like co-author of the study Dr  Ken Ong feel:
“Bottle-fed babies may appear more content, but research suggests that these infants may be over-nourished and gain weight too quickly. Our findings are essentially similar to other stages of life; people often find that eating is comforting.”
Perhaps this is true...

However - what's really quite interesting is some little known research by Philip Zeskind, an associate professor of psychology:
"Bottle-fed babies in some ways resemble an out-of-tune automobile, while breast-fed babies appear to be more alert, perhaps because their bodies simply run better, a Virginia Tech study shows. 
Breast-fed babies develop a more energy-efficient and rhythmically functioning autonomic nervous system, which controls infant arousal, than bottle-fed babies, says Philip Zeskind, associate professor of psychology, who studied the sleep-wake patterns and heart rates of breast-fed and bottle-fed newborn infants.
"Although breast-fed babies are perceived to be more irritable than bottle-fed newborns,"Zeskind says, "our results suggest that the behaviors of breast-fed infants are physiologically more desirable. Feeding infants formula may make them sleep more and may disrupt the smooth running of their arousal systems."
Zeskind looked at babies in all stages of behaviour: deep sleep, dream sleep, drowsy, alert, fussing, and crying. Bottle-fed babies were found more often in the deep-sleep state, and breast-fed babies were more alert. Breast-fed babies also had lower heart rates, indicating better energy efficiency. "This argues against the idea that breast-fed babies are just more aroused and hungry,"Zeskind says. "If they were, they'd have a higher heart rate." 
Computer analyses also show that the heart-rate patterns of breast-fed babies are more rhythmically complex, another indication of a more energy-efficient system. Basically, bottle-fed babies are like an automobile engine out of tune, Zeskind says. A less smooth-running arousal system has to work harder and use more fuel.
Which neatly all ties back in with the SIDS research and disruption of the arousal system..

But heck, what does it matter if not breastfeeding can have a notable impact on infant mortality, even in a rich country like America - so long as the baby is "well behaved" right?

Those breastfed and those not may indeed cry different amounts, may be perceived as more irritable or fussy - but this is the human norm.  Ultimately beyond parental convenience, there really doesn't seem to be much evidence to support that it's healthy for baby to veer from normal signalling patterns - nor much known about the longer term, potentially lifelong impact.

The study concludes: Increased awareness of the behavioural dynamics of breastfeeding, a better expectation of normal infant temperament and support to cope with difficult infant temperament could potentially help to promote successful breastfeeding.

PS, Funding:
"The Cambridge Baby Growth Study was supported by the European Union, the World Cancer Research Foundation International, the Medical Research Council, the Mothercare Charitable Foundation and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. BL was a recipient for a grant from the ``Societe Francaise de Nutrition''. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. 
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist."
1. Breastfeeding and Infant Temperament at Age Three Months, de Lauzon-Guillain B , Wijndaele K , Clark M , Acerini CL , Hughes IA , et al. 2012 Breastfeeding and Infant Temperament at Age Three Months. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29326. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029326 


  1. this is the biggest BS i ever heard

  2. I think possibly Anon above me had googled 'breasts with nipples' again :p Interesting reading, particularly the bit about the infant arousal suppression in ff babies.

  3. Mentioned (positively!) this blog in my blog today

  4. Finally a positive read on this subject. I was appalled by all the media coverage relating to Breastfed babies are not well behaved. I found it disgusting that the media use this to bring our countries rates of breastfeeding and other poor rates, just straight back down again further. I for one am not swayed by the media hype on this and will continue to breastfeed my 13m old daughter who is child #4 of breastfed babies in my household. I worry for the young mother's out there who are mis-informed by dangerous media writing who seem to be more pro-formula than pro-breastfeeding. I wonder just how much the formula companies paid them to write that story.

  5. I tried breast feeding and found it tough. Now both baby and myself are happier. That's all that matters to me. Judge me if you will but I quite frankly don't care....

    1. Except you obviously DO care, or else you wouldn't feel the need to tell us and be defensive about it.

    2. It is a tricky situation. This is such a highly emotive subject that quite often when we read about these things we may start to make connections with our own decisions or circumstances. Perhaps that is part of being a mother - the constant self-judgement and re-assessing choices based on new input so that we can be sure we're doing the 'best we can'. But the 'best we can' is different for everyone and ideally we'd all simply be supporting each other in that. Imparting useful information like the Analytical Armadillo does in this article is not meant to imply judgement to others and their own individual choices but simply to allow mums to make a fully informed choice. Personally I'd say kudos for you for giving breastfeeding a go. Perhaps you didn't get the necessary support to keep going and that is a shame but if you and your baby are happy now that is wonderful - your love and attention are perhaps the best gifts you can give to your baby anyway.

  6. It definitely IS tough, particularly given current maternal expectations and the state of support most typically receive.
    Which part of my post suggested judgement? I'm happy to support mums making an informed choice, but that doesn't mean I have to pretend the vast chasm of health implications don't exist does it? With every best intention, being happy doesn't negate or undo any of these?

  7. The first thought I had when I saw this study and the media spin was "more docile doesn't equal happier". My daughter was the mellowest, most easy going baby you had ever seen for the first few months of her life... while I was on morphine and demerol and breastfeeding. Once the pain meds were no longer needed and cleared out of BOTH of our systems, she became a very intense, demanding and ENGAGED baby. She had likes and dislikes and expressed them very passionately. She had expectations of comfort and attention and care and became downright irate when they weren't being met. She had discovered the world around her and did NOT want to go to sleep and miss out on it.

    I could easily have framed the change in terms of her being 'happier' before when she was dopey and a little bit high from the residual medications in my milk, but I would have been WRONG. She was harder to comfort and get to sleep, more irritable and demanding, but she was obviously happier, more stimulated, more stimulatING, and just generally MORE afterwards.

    (And before anyone starts to bash- I did do my research before I took the medications and I decided that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweighed the fact that she would be dopey/drowsy/slightly buzzed while I was on the medications. I also checked and double checked and triple checked and BOTH the morphine and the demerol are extremely low risk during nursing. I absolutely needed the medications- even with them, I was stuck on a walker, if I was so much as an hour late taking them, I was unable to move AT ALL. It wasn't an ideal situation, but it was what we were dealt and I'm secure in my choices)

    1. To be fair to you,my son was the same. Very calm,docile and sleepy for the first few months. Then he hit 4 months and as you say your child did,became very intense and wanting constant attention and stimulation. I think its something that generally just happens at that age. I suppose.its their way of dealing with this new world they've found and they want to take as much of it in at that precise moment as they can.

  8. Myself, my partner, our siblings and our parents and most of our friends were all bottle fed and have and never have had any 'implications' as you say due to this. I salute all women able to breast feed, but I found it hard as i suffer from Rheumatoid arthitis and I prefered in all honesty to be able to pick my baby up and start my medication again than breast feed. Therefore yes I see all articles about how good breast feeding is and how 'bad' formula is as judgment to those mothers who choose to formula feed. I wouldn't think twice next time about bottle feeding. My baby and myself and partner were 100% happier after I gave up breastfeeding, that should be what should matter. Not people publishing articles making non-breastfed babies mothers feel guilty. There is nothing wrong with formula feeding, especially nowadays.

    1. The only person who can make you feel guilty or bad about your decision is YOU. If you made a decision as to what was best after looking at all the facts and your personal circumstance then you have nothing to feel bad or guilty about. Breast feeding is the norm and anything else is not as good BUT there are clearly cases where other factors weigh so heavily that the decision comes down on the other side with no guilt or blame. If a mother has chosen to give her baby formula because she simply wants to then she should own that decision and not run around saying people are trying to make her feel guilty by trying to educate others of the benefits of breastfeeding. Arabella

  9. QUOTE Myself, my partner, our siblings and our parents and most of our friends were all bottle fed and have and never have had any 'implications' as you say due to this. I salute all women able to breast feed, but I found it hard as I suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis END

    But rheumatoid arthritis is one of those "implications" you and your fiends and siblings have never had?
    Scroll down to conclusions:
    "In this large cohort, breast-feeding for >12 months was inversely related to the development of RA. This apparent effect was dose-dependent, with a significant trend toward lower risk with longer duration of breast-feeding. Irregular menstrual cycles and earlier age at menarche increased the risk of RA. Other reproductive hormonal factors were not associated with RA risk."

    QUOTE Therefore yes I see all articles about how good breast feeding is and how 'bad' formula is as judgment to those mothers who choose to formula feed.

    Ok but I'm confused - should we skew reality so as not to upset mothers who CHOOSE (your words) to not breastfeed?

    Should we pretend risks of alternatives don't exist - and do we start pretending before or after women have made this "choice". Of course happiness matters, but that doesn't therefore mean all the other implications of not feeding don't exist does it?

    I empathise with your situation, I can understand how if there are no medicines compatible with breastfeeding a mum would choose to take the meds, particularly if she isn't aware of other options like donor milk sharing and particularly if she's under the impression it hasn't impacted on her/siblings/friends and truly believes it to be "nearly as good" - I'm not judging anyone in the slightest, formula companies spend A LOT of money so mums believe that.

    I do think if an article discussing facts in a rational non judgemental way MAKES a mum feel guilty, that perhaps suggests she is judging herself.

    "There is nothing wrong with formula feeding, especially nowadays" - that really depends how you define wrong? Is it still a substandard product compared to human milk? Absolutely. I think the missing constituents that regulate the immune system, kill cancers and impact on longerm health are pretty important, you show me the evidence they're not and we can talk again.

    Ask yourself, if these things don't matter, why are formula companies working on genetically modified cows to product milk more like breastmilk?

    Feeling like the choice you made for your family and your circumstances at the time is right - is a personal decision only each mother can make. Suggesting this therefore means we have to pretend formula is fab not only prevents people making any sort of informed choice, but leaves mums feeling crap longterm.

  10. No one can 'make' you feel guilty.

  11. So it's my mums fault I've got RA ? I will have to tell her how selfish she was. My nans were breast fed one has RA- in which my MEDICAL CONSULTANT thinks my RA derived- my other died of cancer... You have no right pointing the finger. And I don't feel one bit guilty about my choice.

  12. Oh and my great nan has dementia... Also breast fed. My partners grandparents are both as fit as Olympic athletes at 75 and guess what formula....

  13. Look. The no one on this blog is trying to make anyone feel guilty or point any fingers. Breastfeeding feeding WILL reduce the risk of many many illnesses but no one would claim that it will stop you or your children getting them. All that is being done is the provision of information so parents can make educated decisions. If you feel guilty about your decisions then that is your problem, not a fault with the facts or the information. Arabella

  14. Have I not just said I DON'T feel guilty. I am proud of myself and of how well my baby is doing

  15. QUOTE So it's my mums fault I've got RA ? I will have to tell her how selfish she was. My nans were breast fed one has RA- in which my MEDICAL CONSULTANT thinks my RA derived- my other died of cancer... You have no right pointing the finger. And I don't feel one bit guilty about my choice.

    I didn't state anyone was selfish, nor did I point any fingers or suggest you should feel guilty? You're the only one who has said anything along those lines.

    You stated you were all FF and had non of the issues linked with not breastfeeding - I just pointed out that actually you did.

    QUOTE Oh and my great nan has dementia... Also breast fed. My partners grandparents are both as fit as Olympic athletes at 75 and guess what formula....

    This is called anecdotal evidence, a bit like those people who say "my gran smoked till she was 102 and was fine!"; does that mean all the mountains of evidence suggesting tobacco causes cancer is wrong?

    We're dealing with risks - not certainties. Just like lots of people who smoke wont get lung cancer, and lots who don't smoke will anyway - not smoking isn't a guarantee you wont get cancer but it still remains smoking increases the risks.

    Using a carseat doesn't guarantee you won't have an accident in which your baby is badly hurt, but we know the risks are less than if you don't use one - it's exactly the same deal.

    To the last Anon - breastfeeding doesn't reduce the risk of any illnesses. Not breastfeeding increases the risks - same difference but holding milk of our own species as the norm for comparison and not the alternative milk from cows.

    PS please sign off your ANON posts with a tag name or suchlike, it gets too confusing with lots of Anons and no other reference.

  16. Ok so your comparing not having a cars eat to not breast feeding. I think the risks are a little greater there. There isn't massive evidence just a few cases and links. I love to see women breast feeding and I wish I could of done it myself. But I just hate hearing how bad it if you don't breast feed.

  17. Sorry it's Claire ^^

  18. Sorry. The reduces was me. And I DO know better. Arabella

  19. No anon I'm not comparing not having a car seat to not breastfeeding - It's an example discussing risk v certainty.

    QUOTE There isn't massive evidence just a few cases and links

    I understand it's upsetting to read, my first had formula pre 6 months - but I don't think that means we should censor information because it's hard to hear. Why doesn't the NHS ensure donated milk is an option for mums that need it when they know the health implications of alternatives?

  20. Well, this research fits in quite well with the research earlier this year showing that infants who are breastfed are rated as less "naughty" by their parents in childhood than FF babies - and other research showing that they are deemed less difficult as teenagers and more sociable.

    It all makes sense to me. If breastfeeding mums soothe an infant at the developmentally appropriate age, and learn sensitivity to their babies - and it is a challenging proceess, to listen to your baby and not ignore them or stuff their mouths with rubber - then the child learns sensitivity to the parent and trust in authority figures too.

  21. To the lady who has RA:

    Nobody here is judging you. You have made your decision based on your unique situation. Not being able to pick up your baby, being in so much pain that you can't bond with your baby etc. would certainly have negative effects on your baby, too. The fact remains formula feeding can have immediate and long-term negative health implications and in most cases breastfeeding is the best choice. However, in a small percentage of cases, there are disadvantages to breastfeeding that might even outweigh the benefits. These cases are rare and there are usually other options aside from simply giving formula.
    As AA has mentioned, it's a shame that there aren't other options easily available to women in situations like yours. I myself have been a milk-donor and wish donor milk was easily available to more women. Especially for women that have known health risks in their family. Again, I'm not judging you, but if you know that you have a genetic risk for something like RA in your family, wouldn't you try to reduce all other risk factors? You might not be able to avoid passing on RA to one of your children, but then again, you just might. Or you might be able to reduce the severity of their symptoms.
    Most women would not even consider using donor milk due to how hard it is to come by and how completely whacky it sounds to many. But even the WHO lists it as the next best choice, right behind milk from the baby's mum.

    With regards to anecdotal evidence:
    My mother smokes heavily and is healthy as an ox. She also smoked during her pregnancies and smoked inside the house and car as I grew up. Fortunately, I am healthy as an ox, too and so it my brother. I am not blaming her for what she did. I'm not even saying that she was selfish. But I am also not going around telling people that smoking isn't harmful to women and their children.
    A good family friend didn't smoke or drink ate healthy and did lots of exercise and dropped dead from a heart attack at 50. That's the problem with anecdotal evidence -it doesn't really tell us anything.

    And by the way, there certainly IS massive evidence to the health risks of infant formula. Not just "a few cases and links".

  22. I know this is an old post, but I'm working my way backwards through the blog. I just read the DM article, and the comments below it. I'm quite shocked - I've been reading on your blog how negative people tend to be about breastfeeding, but seeing it in black and white on their website it quite shocking. So many people seem to think it's acceptable to trash people who breastfeed, or people who try to explain the benefits of breastfeeding! As for the contents of the article, I know I'd rather my baby (when he or she is born) be awake and interacting with the world than be sleepy and distant because of over-feeding.

  23. Thank you. My mother in law has advised me to stop my 9 month old's daytime feeds as they make babies more docile. This study proves the exact opposite is true. I'm not going to as I know that he still needs the calories from my milk. It saddens me as she breastfed her children and so should already know this. My little boy is anything but docile,he's a very active child and advancing a lot more than his formula fed peers. As always,an excellent blog well researched by yourself :-)

  24. This is a hugely misleading document. I don't know what or who they studied, but perhaps they need to be studied for trying to mislead the public. I'm sure this was backed by some formula company. This is ridiculous. Breastfed babies are typically tended to more quickly and almost always by the mother. They don't have to wait for formula to be mixed up or bottles to be sterilized. It's always ready at the perfect temperature. As for crying less, I want to know who they've been talking to? That's a bunch of bull. Do they even know the difficulties of babies that have to be on multiple formulas only to find out they multiple allergies and have to be put on some horrific soy formula. Let's all wait a few more years and see how this formula nutrition is working out. How much more does obesity and allergies go up before people stop believing this crap.

  25. I breastfeed and I can definitely tell you that breastfeeding makes a happy baby! I can't even imagine life without putting her to the breast. She would be a much unhappier baby I'm sure!

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. This is not true at all!! I breastfeed my 4-month-old daughter and she is VERY well-behaved. Always happy, laughing, playing, and smiling.I had to even ask my doctor if it was normal for a baby to be so good. She only cries when hungry (about every three hours) or when sleepy. Plus, she sleeps throughout the night... Well, she wakes up once to eat then goes back to sleep. Daycare and babysitters loves her. My sister has a one-month-old baby and she only feeds her baby formula. Her baby is constantly crying!!

    I do, however, pump and give her breastmilk in a bottle most of the time because I work full-time. Maybe feeding her with a bottle makes a difference.

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