Breastfeeding, diet quality and impulsive behavior of toddlers

Yvonne Willemsen
About the Author

Yvonne Willemsen, is a PhD candidate at the Developmental Psychology Department of Radboud University in Nijmegen (the Netherlands). She is specialized in molecular nutrition and focuses on child health and the associations between nutrition and gut microbiota.

What was the goal of your research or experiment?

We wanted to know whether breastfeeding duration and diet quality predicts impulsive behavior in toddlers. While breastfeeding might play a role in the development of child impulse control, its role has only been investigated in relation to ADHD and cognition. Moreover, we don’t know much yet about the role of diet on preschoolers’ impulsivity.

How did you measure or test this?

In total, 64 families were included in our study. After birth, mothers were asked at different ages whether they were still breastfeeding or not.

When children became 3 years old, we let both parents fill in questionnaires about their child’s impulsive behavior. We also asked parents to fill in questionnaires about what their child ate on 3 random days. And lastly, we played different games with the toddlers to objectively judge their behavior. What is unique of our study is that we investigated impulsive behaviour in a rigorous way (multiple questionnaires by two caretakes and multiple behavioral tasks). This gives us a better, and less biased indication of a child’s impulsivity.

What were the main results or findings?

Contrary to our hypothesis we did not find that the length breastfeeding duration is linked with impulsive behavior. Neither is diet quality related to impulsive behavior of the toddler. We did find that longer breastfeeding duration predicts better diet quality.

What does this mean?

In the context of breastfeeding and nutrition, only a few studies have researched impulsive behavior in toddlers as rigorously as we did. We are also the first study to measure breastfeeding duration and diet quality of toddlers in the least biased way. Our study suggests that breastfeeding and diet are not linked with impulsivity in toddlers, contrary to earlier findings. However, to find out whether our results are true, we still need more research, with preferably the same methods, to confirm this.

What is the next step?

Because of the potential implications of this research, it is important that these measures are repeated in bigger and more diverse groups of toddlers. Only then will we know for sure what the effects of breastfeeding and diet quality are on impulsive behavior.

More information

Publication information

Title: Do Breastfeeding History and Diet Quality Predict Inhibitory Control at Preschool Age?

Authors: Yvonne Willemsen, Roseriet Beijers, Alejandro Arias Vasquez, and Carolina de Weerth

Journal: Nutrients

Year: 2021