Gender differences in the effect of breastfeeding on adult psychological well-being

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

October 15, 2012


Background: Little is known about whether the positive effect of breastfeeding on child health extends to adult psychological adjustment. We hypothesized that breastfed babies would have higher psychological well-being in adulthood in relation to the pathway of childhood psychosocial adjustment. Methods: We used the available cases with normal birthweight from the National Child Development Study (NCDS, Nā€‰=ā€‰7304, born in 1958) and the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70, Nā€‰=ā€‰6205, born in 1970). Childhood psychosocial adjustment was assessed by the child's teacher, using the Bristol Social Adjustment Guides for the NCDS and the Rutter Behaviour Scale for the BCS70. Adult psychological well-being was defined in terms of measures of emotional distress and self-efficacy. In this study, we controlled the effects of socio-demographic factors at birth: maternal age and educational status, two-parenthood and being a first-born child. We used path analysis to test life-course pathways between breastfeeding and adult psychological well-being independent of socio-demographic factors at birth and the role childhood psychosocial adjustment. Results: After accounting for the effects of the socio-demographic factors at birth, being breastfed indirectly contributed to adult psychological well-being among women through the pathway from childhood psychosocial adjustment. Moreover, this was directly associated with better psychological well-being in adulthood among women from the BCS70. Being breastfed was not associated with psychological outcomes amongst men in either cohort. Conclusions: Being breastfed contributed to psychological outcomes in women, especially from the later born cohort. Our findings suggest that being breastfed can be important for women's psychological well-being throughout the lifecourse.

Published in

European Journal of Public Health

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 22 , p.653 -658






Online in Albert Sloman Library, except current year



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest