BACKGROUND:

Breastfeeding has been associated with improved neurodevelopment in children. However, it remains unknown to what extent nutritional advantages of breast milk may explain this relationship.

OBJECTIVE:

We assessed the role of parental psychosocial factors and colostrum long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LC-PUFA) levels in the relationship between breastfeeding and children's neurodevelopment.

METHODS:

A population-based birth cohort was established in the city of Sabadell (Catalonia, Spain) as part of the INMA-INfancia y Medio Ambiente Project. A total of 657 women were recruited during the first trimester of pregnancy. Information about parental characteristics and breastfeeding was obtained by using a questionnaire, and trained psychologists assessed mental and psychomotor development by using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development in 504 children at 14 months of age.

RESULTS:

A high percentage of breastfeeds among all milk feeds accumulated during the first 14 months was positively related with child mental development (0.37 points per month of full breastfeeding [95% confidence interval: 0.06–0.67]). Maternal education, social class, and intelligence quotient only partly explained this association. Children with a longer duration of breastfeeding also exposed to higher ratios between n-3 and n-6 PUFAs in colostrum had significantly higher mental scores than children with low breastfeeding duration exposed to low levels.

CONCLUSIONS:

Greater levels of accumulated breastfeeding during the first year of life were related to higher mental development at 14 months, largely independently from a wide range of parental psychosocial factors. LC-PUFA levels seem to play a beneficial role in children's mental development when breastfeeding levels are high.

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