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The Benefits of Breastfeeding Across the Early Years of Childhood

  • Clive R. Belfield
  • Inas Rashad Kelly

The choice to breastfeed rather than formula-feed an infant as well as the duration of doing so has been scrutinized in more recent times. Yet, key identification issues remain to be resolved, including the array of possible child development benefits, the optimal intensity of breastfeeding versus formula- feeding, and the possibility of confounding with other inputs that promote child health. This study uses the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey - Birth Cohort to explore the causal effect of breastfeeding on development across the early years of childhood. We examine a range of health, physical, and cognitive outcomes and relate these to a set of breastfeeding and formula-feeding intensities. Adjusting for a very extensive set of potential confounding factors that also promote child development, our empirical method uses simultaneous equations models and propensity score measures to understand the link between breastfeeding and child outcomes. Our results indicate that breastfeeding and not formula-feeding at birth are associated with increased probabilities of being in excellent health at 9 months. Furthermore, they are protective against obesity and improve cognitive outcomes at 24 months and 54 months. Breastfeeding for 6 months or more increases motor scores at 9 months.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16496.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16496.

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Date of creation: Oct 2010
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Publication status: published as Clive R. Belfield & Inas Rashad Kelly, 2012. "The Benefits of Breast Feeding across the Early Years of Childhood," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(3), pages 251 - 277.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16496
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  1. Joseph J. Sabia, 2007. "The Effect of Body Weight on Adolescent Academic Performance," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 871–900, April.
  2. Daniel I. Rees & Joseph J. Sabia, 2009. "The Effect of Breast Feeding on Educational Attainment: Evidence from Sibling Data," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 43-72.
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  8. Haines, Michael R. & Kintner, Hallie J., 2008. "Can breast feeding help you in later life? Evidence from German military heights in the early 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 420-430, December.
  9. Herbst, Chris M. & Tekin, Erdal, 2010. "The Impact of Child Care Subsidies on Child Well-Being: Evidence from Geographic Variation in the Distance to Social Service Agencies," IZA Discussion Papers 5102, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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