173228 Breast feeding enhances childhood emotional and psychiatric development

Wednesday, October 29, 2008: 8:30 AM

Katherine Hobbs, MD , Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Alexy Arauz Boudreau, MD, MPH , Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Breast feeding has been associated with enhanced performance on childhood tests of cognition, but the relationship between breast feeding and childhood emotional development is less clear.

Objective: To determine if breast feeding is associated with decreased behavioral problems and psychiatric illness during childhood.

Methods: The 2003 National Survey of Children's Health includes 102,353 interviews of parents and guardians on the health of their children ages 10 months to 18 years in the United States. Our sample included survey participants who were asked questions regarding breastfeeding and their child's behavior. We created multivariate regression models with the main independent variable being “Was [CHILD] ever breastfed or fed breast milk?” Outcome measures varied according to age:

Ages 1.5-5 yrs.

“Are you currently concerned a lot, a little, or not at all about:

a) How he/she is learning to do things for himself/herself?” (n=23,900)

b) How he/she is learning pre-school or school skills?” (n=23,626)

c) How he/she behaves?” (n=23,901)

For these questions, the answers “a lot” and “a little” were combined to make the dependent variable binomial.

Ages 2-5 yrs.

“Has a doctor or health professional ever told you that [CHILD] has behavioral or conduct problems?” (n=90,108)

Ages 1-5 yrs.

“During the past 12 months/Since his/her birth, did [CHILD] receive any mental health care or counseling?” (n=95,660)

We controlled for child age, sex, SES, race/ethnicity, parental education, and maternal mental health.

Results: Parents/guardians of breastfed children were less likely to report concern about the child's ability to learn for him/herself (OR=0.77, CI=0.64-0.91) or in preschool (OR=0.76, CI=0.65-0.88). Breastfeeding was also associated with lower odds of a) concern for the child's behavior (OR=0.85, CI=0.74-0.98), b) medically diagnosed behavioral/conduct problems (OR=0.63, CI=0.42-0.93) or c) receipt of mental health care (OR=0.63, CI=0.45-0.88).

Conclusion: These findings support current evidence that breast feeding enhances childhood intellectual ability while providing new evidence that breast feeding may contribute to childhood emotional development and protect against psychiatric illness and behavioral problems.

Learning Objectives:
Recognize that breastfeeding may be associated with decreased behavioral problems and need for psychiatric care in children ages 1-5 years old.

Keywords: Breast Feeding, Mental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a Psychiatry resident who has completed the research and data analysis on this project.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.