Effects of Exclusive Breastfeeding for Four versus Six Months on Maternal Nutritional Status and Infant Motor Development

Kathryn G. Dewey, Roberta J. Cohen, Kenneth H. Brown and Leonardo Landa Rivera

Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131:262-267.


To examine whether the duration of exclusive breastfeeding affects maternal nutrition or infant motor development, we examined data from two studies in Honduras: the first with 141 infants of low-income primiparous women and the second with 119 term, low birth weight infants.

In both studies, infants were exclusively breastfed for 4 mo and then randomly assigned to continue exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) until 6 mo or to receive high-quality, hygienic solid foods (SF) in addition to breast milk between 4 and 6 mo. Maternal weight loss between 4 and 6 mo was significantly greater in the exclusive breastfeeding group (EBF) group than in the group(s) given solid foods (SF) in study 1 (-0.7 ± 1.5 versus -0.1 ± 1.7 kg, P < 0.05) but not in study 2. The estimated average additional nutritional burden of continuing to exclusively breastfeed until 6 mo was small, representing only 0.1–6.0% of the recommended dietary allowance for energy, vitamin A, calcium and iron. Women in the EBF group were more likely to be amenorrheic at 6 mo than women in the SF group, which conserves nutrients such as iron. In both studies, few women (10–11%) were thin (body mass index <19 kg/m2), so the additional weight loss in the EBF group in study 1 was unlikely to have been detrimental. Infants in the EBF group crawled sooner (both studies) and were more likely to be walking by 12 mo (study 1) than infants in the SF group. Taken together with our previous findings, these results indicate that the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding during this interval appear to outweigh any potential disadvantages in this setting.

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