Breastfed babies appear to handle stress better a decade later than their bottle-fed peers.

The researchers who report that finding in the Archives of Disease in Childhood’s Aug. 3 advance online edition aren’t ready to give breastfeeding sole credit.

It’s possible breastfed babies have other advantages that help them cope with stress, note Scott Montgomery, BSc, PhD, and colleagues in the journal.

Montgomery’s team studied more than 8,900 children born in the U.K. in 1970. The children’s moms were interviewed soon after giving birth, and again when the kids were 5 and 10 years old.

When the kids were 5, the mothers were asked if they had breastfed their child, even for a few days, with or without additional bottle-feeding.

When the children were 10, the moms were asked if they had gotten divorced in the past five years. Also, the 10-year-olds’ teachers rated their in-school anxiety level.

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Most of the 10-year-olds’ parents hadn’t divorced, but about 12 percent had done so within the past five years.

Children from divorced families were more likely to be anxious, according to their teachers, than those with intact families.

But among those whose parents had divorced, the 10-year-olds breastfed as babies were less likely to be anxious than their bottle-fed peers, based on the teacher ratings.

Adjusting for other factors -- such as the mother’s age and education level, smoking during pregnancy, and family social class -- didn’t change the results, the study shows.

The researchers also grouped the breastfed children into those who had been breastfed for up to one month, for over one month and up to three months, and over three months. How long the breastfeeding lasted didn’t seem to matter when it came to lowering anxiety levels in the children from divorced homes.

Breastfeeding “may be associated with lower levels of anxiety among children who have had the potentially stressful experience of parental divorce,” write Montgomery and colleagues.

The researchers aren’t sure how to explain the pattern.

Breastfeeding has well-known benefits, such as letting mothers and babies bond.

Then again, breastfeeding might be a marker for other maternal or family traits that help kids handle stress, the researchers note.

Breastfeeding wasn’t linked to divorce risk, the researchers add.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Montgomery, S. Archives of Disease in Childhood, Aug. 3, 2006; advance online edition. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.