Protective effect of breastfeeding with regard to children's behavioral and cognitive problems

Nutr J. 2014 Nov 29;13(1):111. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-111.


Background: Breastfeeding has been associated with a lower risk for behavioral problems in childhood. However, it is uncertain whether these associations are mediated by the mother's or child's IQ. We examined the association between breastfeeding and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral problems in childhood and assessed the role of the child's IQ and the mother's IQ in generating this association.

Findings: The current study included 874 children (8-11 years) recruited from schools in five Korean cities. Mothers were asked about nursing, and the prevalence of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioral problems were compared between children who were breastfed and those who were not breastfed. After adjusting for age, gender, area of residence, and yearly family income, a lack of breastfeeding was associated with increased internalizing, externalizing, and overall behavioral problems as well as the diagnosis of ADHD. These associations weakened but mostly remained significant after adjusting for child's IQ and maternal IQ. In addition, a lack of breastfeeding was associated with low child's IQ and this association weakened, but remained significant even after adjusting for maternal IQ and the diagnosis of ADHD.

Conclusions: This study suggests that there is a protective effect of breastfeeding on childhood behavioral outcomes with a partial mediation of this effect by the child's IQ, and there is a positive effect of breastfeeding on childhood intelligence with a partial mediation of this effect by the child's attention problem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Breast Feeding* / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Republic of Korea / epidemiology