Breastfeeding, Parenting, and Early Cognitive Development

Published:November 25, 2013DOI:


      To explain why breastfeeding is associated with children's cognitive development.

      Study design

      By using a nationally representative longitudinal survey of early childhood (N = 7500), we examined how breastfeeding practices, the early introduction of solid foods, and putting an infant to bed with a bottle were associated with cognitive development across early childhood. We also explored whether this link can be explained by parenting behaviors and maternal education.


      There is a positive relationship between predominant breastfeeding for 3 months or more and child reading skills, but this link is the result of cognitively supportive parenting behaviors and greater levels of education among women who predominantly breastfed. We found little-to-no relationship between infant feeding practices and the cognitive development of children with less-educated mothers. Instead, reading to a child every day and being sensitive to a child's development were significant predictors of math and reading readiness outcomes.


      Although breastfeeding has important benefits in other settings, the encouragement of breastfeeding to promote school readiness does not appear to be a key intervention point. Promoting parenting behaviors that improve child cognitive development may be a more effective and direct strategy for practitioners to adopt, especially for disadvantaged children.
      ECLS-B ( Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort), IRT ( Item Response Theory), NCES ( National Center for Education Statistics)
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