Exclusive Breastfeeding and Cognition, Executive Function, and Behavioural Disorders in Primary School-Aged Children in Rural South Africa: A Cohort Analysis
Rochat TJ., Houle B., Stein A., Coovadia H., Coutsoudis A., Desmond C., Newell ML., Bland RM.
© 2016 Rochat et al. Background: Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is associated with early child health; its longer-term benefits for child development remain inconclusive. We examine the associations between EBF, HIV exposure, and other maternal/child factors and the cognitive and emotional-behavioural development of children aged 7–11 y. Methods and Findings: The Vertical Transmission Study (VTS) supported EBF in HIV-positive and HIV-negative women; between 2012 and 2014, HIV-negative VTS children (332 HIV exposed, 574 HIV unexposed) were assessed in terms of cognition (Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children Second Edition [KABC-II]), executive function (Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment Second Edition [NEPSY-II]), and emotional-behavioural functioning (parent-reported Child Behaviour Checklist, [CBCL]). We developed population means by combining the VTS sample with 629 same-aged HIV-negative children from the local demographic platform. For each outcome, we split the VTS sample into scores above or at/below each population mean and modelled each outcome using logistic regression analyses, overall and stratified by child sex. There was no demonstrated effect of EBF on overall cognitive functioning. EBF was associated with fewer conduct disorders overall (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.44 [95% CI 0.3–0.7], p ≤ 0.01), and there was weak evidence of better cognition in boys who had been exclusively breastfed for 2–5 mo versus ≤1 mo (Learning subscale aOR 2.07 [95% CI 1.0–4.3], p = 0.05). Other factors associated with better child cognition were higher maternal cognitive ability (aOR 1.43 [95% CI 1.1–1.9], p = 0.02, Sequential; aOR 1.74 [95% CI 1.3–2.4], p < 0.001, Planning subscales) and crèche attendance (aOR 1.96 [95% CI 1.1–3.5], p = 0.02, Sequential subscale). Factors positively associated with executive function were home stimulation (aOR 1.36 [95% CI 1.0–1.8], p = 0.04, Auditory Attention; aOR 1.35 [95% CI 1.0–1.8], p = 0.05, Response Set) and crèche (aOR 1.74 [95% CI 1.0–3.0], p = 0.05, Animal Sorting). Maternal mental health problems and parenting stress were associated with increased emotional-behavioural problems on the total CBCL (aOR 2.44 [95% CI 1.3–4.6], p = 0.01; aOR 7.04 [95% CI 4.2–11.9], p < 0.001, respectively). Maternal HIV status was not associated with any outcomes in the overall cohort. Limitations include the nonrandomised study design and lack of maternal mental health assessment at the child’s birth. Conclusions: EBF was associated with fewer than average conduct disorders and weakly associated with improved cognitive development in boys. Efforts to improve stimulation at home, reduce maternal stress, and enable crèche attendance are likely to improve executive function and emotional-behavioural development of children.