Associations of Maternal Milk Feeding With Neurodevelopmental Outcomes at 7 Years of Age in Former Preterm Infants

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



JAMA network open








Importance: Maternal milk feeding may have unique long-term neurodevelopmental benefits in very preterm infants. Objective: To examine the extent to which maternal milk feeding after very preterm birth is associated with cognitive, academic, and behavioral outcomes at school age. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study assessed 586 infants born at less than 33 weeks' gestation at 5 Australian perinatal centers and enrolled in the Docosahexaenoic Acid for Improvement of Neurodevelopmental Outcomes study (January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2005) who were evaluated at a corrected age of 7 years. The statistical analysis was completed on January 19, 2022. Exposures: Maternal milk intake, including mean volume (milliliters per kilogram per day) during neonatal hospitalization and total duration (in months). Main Outcomes and Measures: Neurodevelopmental outcomes at 7 years of age were (1) IQ (Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence), (2) academic achievement (Wide Range Achievement Test, Fourth Edition), (3) symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Conners Third Edition ADHD Index, parent reported), (4) executive function (Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning, parent reported), and (5) behavior (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, parent reported). Results: A total of 586 infants (mean [SD] gestational age at birth, 29.6 [2.3] weeks; 314 male [53.6%]) born to 486 mothers (mean [SD] age, 30.6 [5.5] years; 447 [92.0%] White) were included. Mean (SD) maternal milk intake in the neonatal intensive care unit was 99 (48) mL/kg daily, and mean (SD) maternal milk duration was 5.1 (5.4) months. Mean (SD) full-scale IQ was 98.5 (13.3) points. After covariate adjustment, higher maternal milk intake during the neonatal hospitalization was associated with higher performance IQ (0.67 points per additional 25 mL/kg daily; 95% CI, 0.10-1.23 points), reading scores (1.14 points per 25 mL/kg daily; 95% CI, 0.39-1.89 points), and math scores (0.76 points per 25 mL/kg daily; 95% CI, 0.14-1.37 points) and fewer ADHD symptoms (-1.08 points per 25 mL/kg daily; 95% CI, -1.96 to -0.20 points). Longer duration of maternal milk intake was associated with higher reading (0.33 points per additional month; 95% CI, 0.03-0.63 points), spelling (0.31 points per month; 95% CI, 0.01-0.62 points), and math (0.30 points per month; 95% CI, 0.03-0.58 points) scores. Maternal milk was not associated with improved full-scale IQ, verbal IQ, executive function, or behavior. Most associations were stronger among infants born at lower gestational ages, particularly less than 30 weeks (interaction P values <.01). Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study of preterm infants, maternal milk feeding during the neonatal hospitalization and after discharge were associated with better school-age performance IQ and academic achievement and with a reduction in ADHD symptoms, particularly among infants born at less than 30 weeks' gestation.


Public Health Student Works