Association between breastfeeding during infancy and white matter microstructure in early childhood

Preeti Kar, Jess E Reynolds, Melody N Grohs, Rhonda C Bell, Megan Jarman, Deborah Dewey, Catherine Lebel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Associations between breastfeeding and brain development, in the context of child, perinatal, and sociodemographic variables, remain unclear. This study investigated whether exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and total duration of breastfeeding were associated with brain white matter microstructure in young children.

METHODS: This study included 85 typically developing children (42 males) born to 83 mothers that were predominantly white, highly educated, and in high income households. Children underwent their first diffusion tensor imaging scan between ages 2.34 and 6.97 years; some children returned multiple times, providing a total of 331 datasets. Feeding information was collected from mothers at 3, 6, and 12 months postpartum and at their child's scan to calculate breastfeeding status at 6 months (exclusive or not) as well as total duration of any breastfeeding. Linear regression was used to investigate associations between breastfeeding exclusivity/duration and fractional anisotropy (FA) for the whole brain and 10 individual white matter tracts.

RESULTS: Breastfeeding exclusivity and duration were associated with global and regional white matter microstructure, even after controlling for perinatal and sociodemographic factors. Greater exclusivity was associated with higher FA in females and lower FA in males.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest white matter differences associated with breastfeeding that differ by sex. These may stem from different trajectories in white matter development between males and females in early childhood and suggest possible long-term white matter differences associated with breastfeeding.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118084
Early online date18 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

©2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license ( )


  • APrON
  • Brain
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Preschool
  • nutrition


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