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The relationship of breastfeeding to mental and motor development in children under two years of age Petryk, Andrea L.


Occupational therapists are involved also in the rehabilitation of infants with feeding difficulties in a variety of health care and community settings. Breastfeeding involves the occupational performance of a mother-child dyad within a physical, social, economic and cultural environment and, for many mothers, constitutes the primary occupation of motherhood for the greater part of the child’s first year. Based on numerous known child health, maternal health, and community benefits of breastfeeding, the AAP (2005) and the World Health Organization (WHO, 2004) recommended exclusive breastfeeding of infants for 6 months and breastfeeding with introduction of solid foods thereafter, with no upper limit on duration. The existing literature on the relationship of breastfeeding and neurodevelopment is explored, including behavioral, physiological, and genetic explanatory theories. In particular, motor development, visual acuity, educational achievement, and psychosocial adaptation are examined as neuro-developmental outcomes. Significant and widespread methodological limitations in the available research are then discussed. Subsequently, we report on an observational study of the relationship of exclusive and partial breastfeeding duration to mental and motor development as measured by the Mental Development Index (MDI) and Psychomotor Development Index (PDI) of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, Revised (Bayley, 1993). Because breastfeeding mothers are typically older, more educated, with higher family income and more social support, numerous possible confounding variables (covariates) were examined along with breastfeeding for their effect on child development. Data collection, occurring in Phase II, a retrospective survey of participants in a previous study, and Phase II, a prospective recruitment of volunteer from community organizations, yielded 80 mother-child dyads. Differences between Phase I and II groups were not considered to affect results. Correlation coefficients (r) for the relationships between exclusive or partial breastfeeding and MDI or PDI were not significant and very weak (r = 0.14 to 0.21). None of the covariates studied confounded to relationship between breastfeeding and MDI or PDI. Therefore, this study does not support the existence of a dose-response relationship between breastfeeding duration and mental or motor development.

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