Breastfeeding could help kids beat ADHD, study shows

Parents who want to keep their children off ritalin should try feeding them the old fashioned way, a Tel Aviv University team says

Illustrative photo of a mother breast-feeding her baby. (photo credit: CC BY-A Mothering Touch/Flickr)
Illustrative photo of a mother breast-feeding her baby. (photo credit: CC BY-A Mothering Touch/Flickr)

Breastfeeding could reduce the chances that children contract ADHD, a new Tel Aviv University study suggests. With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder now the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder in children and adolescents and parents seeking alternatives to ritalin, the study could prompt parents to dispense with bottles and formula and feed their kids the old-fashioned way.

A study led by Dr. Aviva Mimouni-Bloch of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, who is also head of the Child Neurodevelopmental Center in Loewenstein Hospital, focused 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 study established a clear connection between bottle-feeding and ADHD development; 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.

The study compared the breastfeeding histories of children ages six to twelve who were admitted for other reasons to Schneider’s Children Medical Center in Petah Tikva. Parents of the children were asked to fill in detailed questionnaires on how they fed their infants, and asked about other factors that could have had an impact on the development of ADHD, such as marital status, parents’ education level, 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.

The TAU study joins others conducted by researchers at other institutions that indicate other breastfeeding health benefits. A recent study by Dr Agnes Sonnenschein-van der Voort of the Erasmus Medical Center in The Netherlands showed that breastfed babies had fewer chest and ear infections that required medical attention, lower rates of constipation, lower likelihood of developing asthma, eczema, and Type-II diabetes later in life, and less diarrhea and vomiting in infants.

Mimouni-Bloch said that her team has not yet figured out why breastfeeding has an impact on the future development of ADHD. Among the possibilities is a quality of the breast milk itself, or the bond formed between mother and baby during breastfeeding. 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, she said.

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