Breastfeeding and ADHD Research.

After years or declining rates of breastfeeding, the last decade has seen a reversal of this trend. More and more mothers are following recommendations and breastfeeding exclusively for at least 6 months. Breastfeeding yields benefits not just for the infant, but for the mother as well.

The benefit we’re particularly interested in is the seemingly protective effects breastfeeding has against cognitive disorders such as ADHD. Over the last 5 years, there have been numerous studies which have examined this relationship; so we have gathered some of the most prominent and informative articles are put them in one place.

Just click on the ‘Read more’ link to be brought to the PDF of the paper if you care to dig in a little further.

The duration of breastfeeding and ADHD.
This study was conducted to examine whether duration of the breastfeeding is associated with the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

A total of 100 children aged 4-11 years were divided into two groups: 60 children with ADHD symptoms (based on ICD-10) and 40 subjects of normal control grup. The structured interview and the retrospective questionnaire (including the items: number of pregnancy, pregnancy course, gestational age, status of newborn, birth weight, duration of breastfeeding: 12 months) were used during the study of the both examined groups to indicate the risk factors of development.

Additionally, no significant differences in the percentages of duration of pregnancy, pregnancy complications, delivery complications, condition of the newborn, and birth weight were found between the two groups. The mean of the duration of breastfeeding for group with ADHD was 0.45 year: 5 months and 9 days (median 0.25 year: 3 months). The mean of the duration of breastfeeding of control group was 0.55 year: 6 months and 18 days (median 0.46 year: 5 months) and was significantly greater than that of group with ADHD (p<0.04). The 36 (60%) children with ADHD were breast fed less than 3 months. For comparison 13 (32.5%) controls were breast fed less than 3 months. Significant differences were found among the two children groups (p < 0.05).

In conclusion, the short duration of breastfeeding as environmental factor may be considered a risk factor of ADHD symptoms. However, the further studies are needed.

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Breastfeeding May Protect from Developing Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Breastfeeding has a positive influence on physical and mental development. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobehavioral disorder with major social, familial, and academic influences. The present study aimed to evaluate whether ADHD is associated with a shorter duration of breastfeeding.

In this retrospective matched study, children 6–12 years old diagnosed at Schneider’s Children Medical Center (Petach Tikva, Israel) with ADHD between 2008 and 2009 were compared with two control groups. The first one consisted of healthy (no ADHD) siblings of ADHD children; the second control group consisted of children without ADHD who consulted at the otolaryngology clinic. A constructed questionnaire about demographic, medical, and perinatal findings, feeding history during the first year of life, and a validated adult ADHD screening questionnaire were given to both parents of every child in each group.

In children later diagnosed as having ADHD, 43% were breastfed at 3 months of age compared with 69% in the siblings group and 73% in the control non-related group (p=0.002). By 6 months of age 29% of ADHD children were breastfed compared with 50% in the siblings group and 57% in the control non-related group (p=0.011). A stepwise logistic regression that included the variables found to be significant in univariate analysis demonstrated a significant association between ADHD and lack of breastfeeding at 3 months of age, maternal age at birth, male gender, and parental divorce.

Children with ADHD were less likely to breastfeed at 3 months and 6 months of age than children in the two control groups. We speculate that breastfeeding may have a protective effect from developing ADHD later in childhood.

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Length of Breastfeeding in ADHD Children - a Factor in ADHD Development?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed behavioural disorder of childhood. It affects about 3 – 5% of school aged children. ADHD may lead to cognitive and behavioural problems and further psychiatric symptoms and disorders. Current research shows possible changes of somatic development of ADHD children comparing to non ADHD children. Etiology of these changes is still unclear. It is hypothesized that it can be caused by ADHD specific endocrinologic changes, medication or a ADHD life style. The growth of children may be influenced by further external factors – i.e. length of breastfeeding.

The aim of the study was to compare how long a group of ADHD children – comparing to non ADHD children had been breast fed after the birth. We assessed a group of mothers of ADHD children (n=100) and non ADHD children (n=100) with structured interview oriented to breast feeding. In our pilot study we identified that ADHD children were breastfed substantially shorter time (avg = 2,5 month) than non ADHD children (avg = 7,8 month) at statistically significant level (p< 0.01).

The presented study suggests that ADHD in very young children may influence mother’s behaviour leading to shortening time of breastfeeding. This may lead to further developmental changes. The presented study proposes that developmental changes in ADHD – especially somatic ones may be caused by complex ethology and therefore it is necessary assess not only the child but also conditions of its development.

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Understanding the Relationships Between Breastfeeding, Malocclusion, ADHD, Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Traumatic Dental Injuries
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders that present at young age, may occasionally be associated with physical problems and disorders. Among them exists a group of oral-pharyngeal conditions with considerable clinical morbidity.

Previous research that identified absence or short duration of breastfeeding in ADHD children has been reviewed. Essential nutritional factors in breast milk can affect brain development and regulate the manifestation of ADHD symptoms. Low ferritin levels caused by insufficient breastfeeding may contribute to ADHD susceptibility because of the role of iron in dopaminergic activity. Insufficient breast feeding and subsequently excessive bottle-feeding may lead to increased rates of non-nutritive sucking habits, such as pacifier use and thumb-sucking, all of which are associated with the risk of development of malocclusions.

Malocclusion refers to an unacceptable deviation from the ideal relationship of the upper and lower teeth and necessitates orthodontic treatment. Sleep-disordered breathing in children may present with neurocognitive symptoms that resemble ADHD and abnormal craniofacial developments, as well as malocclusions, have been cited as part of the syndrome. Obesity, which is an outcome of insufficient breastfeeding, is a shared comorbidity of ADHD and sleep-disordered breathing. The risk of traumatic dental injury is higher in children with ADHD and presence of malocclusions further increases the likelihood of dental injuries.

In this review, certain oral-pharyngeal conditions relating to ADHD have been reviewed and links among them have been highlighted in a tentative explanatory model. More research that will provide increased awareness and clinical implications is needed.

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Does Breastfeeding in the Neonatal Period Influence the Cognitive Function of Very-Low-Birth-Weight Infants at 5 Years of Age?
Breast milk is rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is selectively concentrated in neuronal membranes and is thought to be necessary for optimal neurodevelopment. This study evaluated the relationship between breastfeeding, especially the resultant DHA level in the red blood cell (RBC) membranes of infants, and the cognitive function of very-low-birth-weight infants at 5 years of age.

Eighteen patients were classified into groups that were breastfed or formula-fed or both. We measured the DHA concentration in the RBC membranes of 18 preterm infants at 4 weeks of age. To evaluate cognitive function at the age of 5 years, we asked the children to perform five tests: the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children, Day–Night Test, Kansas Reflection Impulsivity Scale for Preschoolers (KRISP), Motor Planning Test, and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

The DHA level at 4 weeks after birth was significantly higher in the breastfed infants than in the formula-fed infants. The scores for the Day–Night Test, KRISP, and Motor Planning Test were significantly higher in the breastfed group. There were significant correlations between the scores for the Day–Night Test and for the KRISP and the level of DHA at 4 weeks of age.

Breastfeeding in the neonatal periods increases the DHA level in preterm infants and may have an important influence on brain development not only during early infancy but also during the preschool years, especially in terms of cognitive function.

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A prospective study of the effects of breastfeeding and FADS2 polymorphisms on cognition and hyperactivity/attention problems
Breastfeeding has been associated with improved cognitive functioning. There is a beneficial effect on IQ, and possibly on associated phenotypes such as attention problems.It has been suggested that the effect on IQ is moderated by polymorphisms in the FADS2 gene, which is involved in fatty acid metabolism.

In this study we tested the relation between breastfeeding and FADS2 polymorphisms on the one hand and IQ, educational attainment, overactivity, and attention problems on the other hand. IQ at age 5, 7, 10, 12, and/or 18 (n = 1,313), educational attainment at age 12 (n = 1,857), overactive behavior at age 3 (n = 2,560), and attention problems assessed at age 7, 10, and 12 years (n = 2,479, n = 2,423, n = 2,226) were predicted by breastfeeding and two SNPs in FADS2 (rs174575 and rs1535). Analyses were performed using structural equation modeling.

After correction for maternal education, a main effect of breastfeeding was found for educational attainment at age 12 and overactive behavior at age 3. For IQ, the effect of breastfeeding across age was marginally significant (P = 0.05) and amounted to 1.6 points after correcting for maternal education. Neither a main effect of the FADS2 polymorphisms nor an interaction with breastfeeding was detected for any of the phenotypes.

This developmentally informed study confirms that breastfeeding is associated with higher educational attainment at age 12, less overactive behavior at age 3 and a trend toward higher IQ after correction for maternal education. In general, the benefits of breastfeeding were small and did not interact with SNPs in FADS2.

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Infant Feeding and Sleep Practises and Childhood Symptoms of ADHD
There is growing consensus that at least some subtypes of ADHD may be associated with certain sleep difficulties and that these difficulties may contribute to the symptoms of the disorder. Recent sleep research has indicated that the sleep physiology of solitary sleeping infants differs from that of infants who cosleep with an adult.

This study explored the potential link between infant sleep and later ADHD symptoms using survey methodology. The relationships between various sleep arrangements in infancy, along with relevant covariates, were examined in relation to each other and to symptoms of ADHD in children ages 3 to 6.

No relationship was found between sleep arrangements at birth and later ADHD symptoms, however, several significant relationships were found among the other variables. The results of this study demonstrate the complex nature of the relationships between variables known to affect the risk for ADHD symptoms.

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Prenatal and Perinatal Risk Factors for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a highly persistent and prevalent paediatric disorder, constitutes substantial burden to affected patients, their families, and society. Apart from genetics, environmental risk factors relevantly contribute to the aetiology of ADHD.

With great interest, we read the article by Nomura et al. recently published in the Archives suggesting that the combination of maternal gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and low socioeconomic position (SEP) is a strong risk factor for childhood ADHD. Limitations of this study are the selected study base and the relatively small sample size. We aimed to replicate the findings in a large population-based sample.

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The information contained within these studies, as well as the information from our research collection on cognitive training and ADHD, were taken into account when creating our ADHD Treatment app.



  • Emily
    July 28, 2013 Reply

    And there is a stigma to breastfeeding? People find is socially unacceptable? I think it needs to be encouraged whenever and wherever. The benefits to the child are conclusive.

    • ADHD Expert
      August 2, 2013 Reply

      In some circles a stigma for breastfeeding still exists, but the good news is that breastfeeding behavior has been continuously improving over the past decade. This is great, because as you seem to know, breastfeeding decreases the risk of ADHD.

  • Adam Stewart
    August 5, 2013 Reply

    Stigma over breast feeding is completely ridiculous because it is a natural phenomenon by which mothers feed their baby with life giving vitamins and minerals which is necessary for a baby in early days, breast milk is enriched with substance which develops babies’ immunity system. Also it reduces effect of breast cancer and decreases the risk of ADHA. Apart from all these health related benefits the most important benefit of breast feeding is it strengthens the bond between mother and child, which is a sign of proper child development in early days of his life.

    • ADHD Expert
      August 5, 2013 Reply

      Well said, Adam! We couldn’t agree more.

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