HealthDay News — According to a study published in Pediatrics, breastfeeding has only one positive benefit on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development after propensity score-matching.

Lisa-Christine Girard, PhD, from the University College Dublin, and colleagues examined the impact of breastfeeding on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development at age 3 and 5 years. Participants included about 8000 families from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal infant cohort. 

Information on children’s problem behaviors, expressive vocabulary, and cognitive abilities at age 3 and 5 years were collected from parent and teacher reports and standardized assessments. The average treatment effects on those who were and were not breastfed were compared using propensity score-matching.

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The researchers found that breastfeeding correlated with better development on nearly every outcome before matching. The only one of the 13 outcomes that remained statistically significant after matching and adjustment for multiple testing was children’s hyperactivity at age 3 years for children who were breastfed for at least six months (difference score, −0.84). After matching, there were no statistically significant differences on any outcomes at age 5.

“Although one positive benefit of breastfeeding was found by using propensity score matching, the effect size was modest in practical terms,” the authors write. “No support was found for statistically significant gains at age 5 years, suggesting that the earlier observed benefit from breastfeeding may not be maintained once children enter school.”


Girard LC, Doyle O and Tremblay RE. “Breastfeeding, Cognitive And Noncognitive Development In Early Childhood: A Population Study”. Pediatrics. 2017. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1848 [Epub ahead of print]

Furman L. “Breastfeeding: What Do We Know, And Where Do We Go From Here?” Pediatrics. 2017. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-0150 [Epub ahead of print]

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