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Longitudinal effects of breast feeding on parent-reported child behaviour
  1. Lydia Gabriela Speyer1,
  2. Hildigunnur Anna Hall1,
  3. Anastasia Ushakova1,2,
  4. Aja Louise Murray1,
  5. Michelle Luciano1,
  6. Bonnie Auyeung1,3
  1. 1 School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2 Department of Psychology, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
  3. 3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Lydia Gabriela Speyer, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, UK; lspeyer{at}


Objective Shorter breastfeeding duration has been linked to a range of difficulties in children. However, evidence linking shorter breastfeeding duration to child behavioural problems has been inconclusive. Owing to an almost exclusive focus on early childhood in previous research, little is known about breastfeeding effects on behaviour throughout childhood and adolescence. This study examines the longitudinal effect of breast feeding on parent-reported behaviour in children aged 3–14.

Design Data come from the Millennium Cohort Study, a large, prospective, UK birth cohort study.

Participants 11 148 children, their parents and teachers.

Methods This study maps the effect of breastfeeding duration on parent-reported child behaviour longitudinally, using latent growth curve modelling and on teacher-reported child behaviour using multiple regression analyses. Breastfeeding duration was assessed through parent interviews when the child was 9 months old. Children’s behavioural development was measured using parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ) at 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 years and teacher-reported SDQs at 7 and 11 years.

Results Breast feeding was associated with fewer parent-reported behavioural difficulties at all ages even after adjusting for potential confounders (<2 months: B=−0.22, 95% CI −0.39 to −0.04; 2–4 months: B=−0.53, 95% CI −0.75 to −0.32; 4–6 months: B=−1.07, 95% CI −1.33 to −0.81; >6 months: B=−1.24, 95% CI −1.44 to −1.04; B=adjusted mean difference of raw SDQ scores at age 3, reference: never breast fed).

Conclusion This study provides further evidence supporting links between breastfeeding duration and children’s socioemotional behavioural development. Potential implications include intervention strategies encouraging breast feeding.

  • infant feeding
  • child psychology
  • general paediatrics

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  • Contributors LGS conceptualised and designed the study, conducted the analyses, drafted the initial manuscript and reviewed and revised the manuscript. HAH and AU made substantial contributions to analysis and interpretation of data. ALM, ML and BA made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the study. HAH, AU, ALM, ML and BA critically reviewed the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding The Millennium Cohort Study is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/M001660/1). LGS was funded by the University of Edinburgh through a Principal’s Career Development Scholarship. HAH was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/R500938/1). BA was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement number 813546, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/N018877/1) during the course of this work.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The Millennium Cohort Study was approved by the London Multicentre Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. The University of London Centre for Longitudinal Studies owns the copyright for the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) data used in this study. The MCS data are held/curated by the UK Data Service. Anyone wishing to use the MCS data (found at: must register and submit a data request to the UK Data Service at Additional terms and conditions of access are outlined here:

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.