We know that breastfeeding has a positive impact on child
development and health, including protection against illness. Now researchers
from Tel Aviv University have shown that breastfeeding could also help protect
against Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the most commonly
diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder in children and adolescents.
Seeking to determine if the development of ADHD was
associated with lower rates of breastfeeding, Dr Aviva Mimouni-Bloch, of Tel
Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Head of the Child Neurodevelopment
Center in Loewenstein Hospital, and her fellow researchers completed a
retrospective study on the breastfeeding habits of parents of three groups of
children: a group that had been diagnosed with ADHD; siblings of those
diagnosed with ADHD; and a control group of children without ADHD and lacking
any genetic ties to the disorder.
The researchers found a clear link between rates of
breastfeeding and the likelihood of developing ADHD, even when typical risk
factors were taken into consideration. Children who were bottle-fed at three
months of age were found to be three times more likely to have ADHD than those
who were breastfed during the same period. These results have been published in
In their study, the researchers compared breastfeeding
histories of children from six to 12 years of age at Schneider's Children
Medical Center in Israel. The ADHD group was comprised of children that had
been diagnosed at the hospital, the second group included the siblings of the
ADHD patients, and the control group included children without neurobehavioral
issues who had been treated at the clinics for unrelated complaints.
In addition to describing their breastfeeding habits during
the first year of their child's life, parents answered a detailed questionnaire
on medical and demographic data that might also have an impact on the
development of ADHD, including marital status and education of the parents,
problems during pregnancy such as hypertension or diabetes, birth weight of the
child, and genetic links to ADHD.
Taking all risk factors into account, researchers found that
children with ADHD were far less likely to be breastfed in their first year of
life than the children in the other groups. At three months, only 43% of
children in the ADHD group were breastfed compared to 69% of the sibling group
and 73% of the control group. At six months, 29% of the ADHD group was breastfed,
compared to 50% of the sibling group and 57% of the control group.
One of the unique elements of the study was the inclusion of
the sibling group, says Dr Mimouni-Bloch. Although a mother will often make the
same breastfeeding choices for all her children, this is not always the case.
Some children's temperaments might be more difficult than their siblings',
making it hard for the mother to breastfeed, she suggests.
While researchers do not yet know why breastfeeding has an
impact on the future development of ADHD, it could be due to the breast milk
itself, or the special bond formed between mother and baby during
breastfeeding, for example they believe this research shows that breastfeeding
can have a protective effect against the development of the disorder, and can
be counted as an additional biological advantage for breastfeeding.
Dr Mimouni-Bloch hopes to conduct a further study on
breastfeeding and ADHD, examining children who are at high risk for ADHD from
birth and following up in six-month intervals until six years of age, to obtain
more data on the phenomenon.