The analysis of about 6000 Queensland mothers and their children also discovered that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she is to neglect or abuse her child.
Researchers from the University of Queensland found that of the 1421 women who did not breastfeed their children in the group, 102 women - or 7.2 per cent - neglected or abused their child in some way. This compared with 4.8 per cent of the 2584 women who breastfed for less than four months and 1.6 per cent of the 2616 women who breastfed for more than four months.
Maltreatment included neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual assault. Neglect was the most common form identified in the study, but the prevalence of all types increased as the duration of breastfeeding decreased. Other variables found to increase the likelihood of maltreatment were unmarried status, low education, smoking and binge-drinking during pregnancy and symptoms of prenatal anxiety.
Lane Strathearn, author of the research due to be published in the journal Pediatrics next month, said the promotion of breastfeeding could be a simple and cost-effective way of strengthening the relationship between mothers and babies to prevent child neglect and abuse.