Sex-specific association between infant diet and white matter integrity in 8-y-old children

Pediatr Res. 2014 Dec;76(6):535-43. doi: 10.1038/pr.2014.129. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


Background: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding, which is well known to promote cognitive and behavioral development. The evidence for why this occurs is not well understood.

Methods: Fifty-six 7.5- to 8.5-y-old healthy children were breastfed (BF; n = 22, 10 males) or formula-fed (FF; n = 34, 16 males) as infants. All children were administered: the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scale (RIAS); the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-4) tests; and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measured fractional anisotropy (FA) values were correlated with RIAS and CELF-4 scores.

Results: DTI tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analyses showed multiple white matter regions in the left hemisphere with significantly higher FA (P < 0.05, corrected) values in BF than FF males, but no significant group differences in females. Males who were exclusively BF for at least 1 y appeared to have the greatest differences in FA. Mean FA values positively correlated with composite scores of RIAS (P = 0.03) and CELF-4 (P = 0.02).

Conclusion: Breastfeeding during infancy was associated with better white matter development at 8 y of age in boys. A similar association was not observed in girls.

Trial registration: NCT00735423.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child Language
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / administration & dosage*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Sex Factors
  • White Matter / growth & development*

Associated data