The surprising connection between breastfed babies and stress

There's more to it than just breastmilk, according to study

Mothers have long been told that "breast is best" when it comes to feeding newborns, but a small experiment suggests that at least some of the benefits may have nothing to do with the milk itself.

While there's plenty of research documenting breastfeeding's benefits, including boosting babies' immune systems and reducing their risk of ear and respiratory infections, allergies, obesity and diabetes, less is known about exactly how breastfeeding might cause these improvements, researchers note in the journal Pediatrics.

For the current study, researchers studied levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 21 babies who were exclusively breastfed for their first five months and another 21 babies who were not.

When infants were exposed to a stressful situation — their mothers ignoring them — researchers found less evidence of a 'fight or flight' stress response in the babies who