Longer Breastfeeding Duration is Associated with a Better Cognitive Function and Could Protect against the Development of Autistic Traits

The study was performed on a cohort of more than 1,300 Spanish children


A study led by ISGlobal researchers confirms that longer breastfeeding duration improves cognitive function and suggests that, in addition, it may protect from the development of autistic traits.  The prospective study, that has followed more than 1,300 children from the INMA cohort study, has been published in the journal Pediatric Research.  

Numerous studies have associated breastfeeding with better cognitive development in children, although the role of confounding factors such as parents’ education, socioeconomic level, or maternal IQ, have not been formally excluded in many of them. In contrast, very few studies have evaluated the effects of breastfeeding on symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autistic traits and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In this study, the authors examined the association between the duration (and intensity) of breastfeeding and cognitive function, ADHD symptoms and autism traits in 1,346 children from the INMA Cohort, at four years of age. After adjusting for several confounding factors, the authors show that longer duration of feeding (regardless of intensity) is associated with a small but significant improvement in cognitive development. In addition, they observed an independent reduction in autistic traits, while the reduction in ADHD symptoms did not reach statistical significance.  

Importantly, the authors underline that these results should not be interpreted as an indication that breastfeeding protects from autism, since the association with clinical ASD was not studied. 

The authors conclude that the strength of the study lies in the sample size, the study design, the use of validated protocols to measure autistic traits, and the control of an important number of confounding factors. “Although the results concerning the development of autistic traits are to be interpreted with caution, the study confirms a positive association with cognitive function and further reinforces recommendations for prolonged breastfeeding duration to promote child development” explains ISGlobal researcher and corresponding author Jordi Julvez.  


Boucher O, Julvez J, Guxens M, Arranz E, Ibarluzea J, Sánchez de Miguel M, Fernández-Somoano A, Tardon A, Rebagliato M, Garcia-Esteban R, O'Connor G, Ballester F, Sunyer J. Association between breastfeeding duration and cognitive development, autistic traits and ADHD symptoms: a multicenter study in Spain. Pediatr Res. 2016 Nov 15.