OBJECTIVES: The importance of breastfeeding exposure and children's development of self-regulation, independently, are well established. Each of these domains also has been linked to better cognitive development and academic achievement in children. However, little is known about how breastfeeding affects development of early self-regulation skills or whether self-regulation mediates the relationship between breastfeeding and academic achievement, particularly for disadvantaged children. This study examined breastfeeding exposure, self-regulation, and academic achievement in kindergarten among a population of children who previously attended Head Start.
METHODS: Children were recruited from Head Start classrooms in the Pacific Northwest. Breastfeeding exposure was assessed via parent report. Children's self-regulation (Day Night Stroop, Dimensional Change Card Sort, Head-Knees-Toes-Shoulders-Revised) and academic achievement [Letter-Word Identification and Applied Problems subtests of Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement (English) or the Batería III Woodcock-Muñoz (Spanish)] were directly assessed in fall and spring of kindergarten. Regressions were performed using Stata v14.1 and included breastfeeding exposure as the primary independent variable, controlling for child age, sex, and language spoken.
RESULTS: Of the 246 children, 56% were reported as White, 34% Latino/a, 4% African American, and 6% other; 83% were ever exposed to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding exposure was predictive of both fall kindergarten academic achievement (emergent math/literacy scores) and self-regulation (p < 0.05) and related to higher math performance in the spring of kindergarten, which was associated with stronger self-regulation in the fall (p = 0.04).
CONCLUSIONS: These findings extend our understanding of the positive effects of breastfeeding exposure on children's development and support breastfeeding promotion, particularly for children at risk of academic difficulty.