Children who are breastfed for more than six months are less likely to have mental health problems in later life, according to new research.
Experts believe that nutrients in mothers' milk, and the bonding process, may have a long-lasting effect on their babies' brain development.
The finding, to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics, came after researchers analysed the medical records of more than 2,000 children in Western Australia.
Professor Wendy Oddy, who led the study, said breastfeeding appeared to have 'significant benefits for the mental health of a child into adolescence'.
She added: 'There has been much evidence about the benefits of early breastfeeding but the importance of this study is that it shows continued benefits from extended feeding.
'Given the rising prevalence of mental health problems, interventions to assist mothers to breastfeed, and to breastfeed for longer, could be of long term benefit to the community.
'As with any of these types of studies, it should be stressed that the findings do not mean that individual children that weren't breastfed will have mental health problems, it's about lowering the risk at a population level.'
Of the children studied just over half were breastfed for six months or longer, 38 per cent were breastfed for less than six month. The rest were not breastfed.
They underwent mental health assessments when they were aged two, five, eight, ten and 14.
For each additional month of breastfeeding, the behaviour score improved, the research by the Perth-based Telethon Institute for Child Health Research revealed.
This remained valid even after other social and economic factors affecting parenting were taken into account.
Dr Oddy added: 'There are a number of ways extended breastfeeding could assist child development. We know that breast milk is packed full of nutrients that help with the rapid brain development that occurs in the early years. It might also signal a strong mother-child attachment and these benefits may last.'
UNICEF and the World Health Organization recommend infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and 'that breastfeeding should continue to contribute an important part of a baby's diet through the second year of life and beyond'.
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