2021 Theses Doctoral
Understanding the Association of Breastfeeding and Food Insecurity on Brain Function in Early Childhood
Introduction: The present study aims to understand how the absence of food security and breastfeeding in children at one year of age, which can be considered as adverse childhood experiences, may be associated with brain function as measured by the relative and absolute power spectral density of four frequency bands of brain waves (theta, alpha, beta, and gamma) among a sample of infants from low-socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds at age 12 months old. Methods: A cross-sectional survey was used by the parent study, Baby’s First Years (BFY), to collect quantitative data to understand the associations between breastfeeding, food insecurity, and brain function in a sample of 243 low-SES mothers and their infants at age 12 months old. Breastfeeding was measured as ever breastfed, to understand if a mother had ever initiated breastfeeding of their infant, and breastfeeding duration, measured in months. Household food insecurity (HFI) was measured using the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module Short Form devised by the USDA. Electroencephalography (EEG) data was collected to assess brain function.
Data Analysis: Data was analyzed to determine associations between being ever breastfed, breastfeeding duration, and the presence of HFI and EEG measured relative and absolute theta, alpha, beta, and gamma power in infants at 12 months of age using multiple linear regression (MLR) models based on ordinary least squares (OLS).
Results: 77% (n=187) of mothers reported breastfeeding their child at least one time. The mean breastfeeding duration (including the mothers that never breastfed) was 3.6 months (SD=4.12). 27.6% (n=67) of mothers were found to be food insecure. Ever breastfeeding an infant during the first year of life was found to be associated with higher absolute theta power (p<0.05), and higher relative and absolute alpha power (p<0.01). Breastfeeding duration was not found to be associated with relative and absolute theta, alpha, beta or gamma power. Finally, the presence of food insecurity was not found to be associated with relative and absolute theta, alpha, beta or gamma power.
Discussion: Differences in brain function may be adaptive for children experiencing adversity because of their lower SES, amongst other factors (Ellis et al., 2020). Ever breastfeeding an infant was associated with higher absolute theta power, which was an unexpected finding. However, relative theta power was not associated with ever breastfeeding, and therefore this finding must cautiously be interpreted. Ever breastfeeding an infant was associated with higher relative and absolute alpha power. It is possible that the increases in relative and absolute alpha power within the sample of infants who were ever breastfed are in part due to the emotional connection that breastfeeding elicits and the characteristics of mothers that decide to initiate breastfeeding as compared to those that do not initiate breastfeeding. This research demonstrates significant associations between ever breastfeeding an infant with brain function in a population of infants from diverse, low SES backgrounds. In contextualizing these changes in brain function as plausible adaptations that infants are developing due to their experiences, an opportunity exists to further explore these associations with brain function to understand the skills that low SES infants are developing during the first year of life.
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More About This Work
- Academic Units
- Behavioral Nutrition
- Thesis Advisors
- Wolf, Randi L.
- Ph.D., Columbia University
- Published Here
- October 13, 2021