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OBJECTIVE: We investigated whether the duration and exclusivity of breastfeeding affects the likelihood of gross and fine motor delay in infants and examined the effect of factors that might explain any observed differences. METHODS: The study sample included all term singleton infants who weighed > 2500 g at birth and were not placed in a special care infant unit and whose mothers participated in the first survey of the Millennium Cohort Study. Missing data reduced the sample to 14660 (94%) with complete data. RESULTS: Almost half (47%) of the infants initially were exclusively breastfed, but only 3.5% of these infants were still being fed exclusively on breast milk after 4 months of age, and 34% of infants were not breastfed at all; 9% of the infants were identified with delays in gross motor coordination and 6% with fine motor coordination delays at age 9 months. The proportion of infants who mastered the developmental milestones increased with duration and exclusivity of breastfeeding. Infants who had never been breastfed were 50% more likely to have gross motor coordination delays than infants who had been breastfed exclusively for at least 4 months (10.7% vs 7.3%). Any breast milk also was positively related to development: infants who had never been breastfed were 30% more likely to have gross motor delays than infants who were given some breast milk for up to 2 months (10.7% vs 8.4%). The odds ratios for gross motor delay were not attenuated after adjustment for biological, socioeconomic, or psychosocial factors. Infants who were never breastfed had at least a 40% greater likelihood of fine motor delay than infants who were given breast milk for a prolonged period. CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that the protective effect of breastfeeding on the attainment of gross motor milestones is attributable to some component(s) of breast milk or feature of breastfeeding and is not simply a product of advantaged social position, education, or parenting style, because control for these factors did not explain any of the observed association. In contrast, the association between breastfeeding and fine motor delay was explained by biological, socioeconomic, and psychosocial factors.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





e682 - e689


Breast Feeding, Child Development, Cohort Studies, Developmental Disabilities, Female, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Male, Psychomotor Disorders, Social Class, Time Factors