Duration of exclusive breastfeeding is associated with differences in infants’ brain responses to emotional body expressions

Krol KM, Rajhans P, Missana M, Grossmann T
Front Behav Neurosci. 2015 Jan 22;8:459.


Much research has recognized the general importance of maternal behavior in the early development and programing of the mammalian offspring’s brain. Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) duration, the amount of time in which breastfed meals are the only source of sustenance, plays a prominent role in promoting healthy brain and cognitive development in human children. However, surprisingly little is known about the influence of breastfeeding on social and emotional development in infancy. In the current study, we examined whether and how the duration of EBF impacts the neural processing of emotional signals by measuring electro-cortical responses to body expressions in 8-month-old infants. Our analyses revealed that infants with high EBF experience show a significantly greater neural sensitivity to happy body expressions than those with low EBF experience. Moreover, regression analyses revealed that the neural bias toward happiness or fearfulness differs as a function of the duration of EBF. Specifically, longer breastfeeding duration is associated with a happy bias, whereas shorter breastfeeding duration is associated with a fear bias. These findings suggest that breastfeeding experience can shape the way in which infants respond to emotional signals.

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