Breastfeeding, maternal education and cognitive function: a prospective study in twins

Behav Genet. 2009 Nov;39(6):616-22. doi: 10.1007/s10519-009-9293-9.


The effect of breastfeeding on cognitive abilities is examined in the offspring of highly educated women and compared to the effects in women with low or middle educational attainment. All offspring consisted of 12-year old mono- or dizygotic twins and this made it possible to study the effect of breastfeeding on mean cognition scores as well as the moderating effects of breastfeeding on the heritability of variation in cognition. Information on breastfeeding and cognitive ability was available for 6,569 children. Breastfeeding status was prospectively assessed in the first years after birth of the children. Maternal education is positively associated with performance on a standardized test for cognitive ability in offspring. A significant effect of breastfeeding on cognition was also observed. The effect was similar for offspring with mothers with a high, middle, and low educational level. Breast-fed children of highly educated mothers score on average 7.6 point higher on a standardized test of cognitive abilities (CITO test; range 500–550; effects size = .936) than formula-fed children of mothers with a low education. Individual differences in cognition scores are largely accounted for by additive genetic factors (80%) and breastfeeding does not modify the effect of genetic factors in any of the three strata of maternal education. Heritability was slightly lower in children with a mother with a middle-level education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Breast Feeding / epidemiology
  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Child
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Genotype*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Infant
  • Intelligence / genetics*
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Netherlands
  • Phenotype
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Environment*
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics*
  • Twins, Dizygotic / psychology
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics*
  • Twins, Monozygotic / psychology