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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

The effects of breastfeeding on children, mothers and employers

A positive association between breastfeeding and child health has been observed over several decades. More recently, relationships have also been reported between breastfeeding and other indicators of child development, including both cognitive outcomes (speech, reading, mathematical ability, etc), and non-cognitive outcomes (for example, social and emotional adjustment and motor skills). However, it is a well-known fact that the decision to breastfeed is not random but reflects mothers' characteristics and preferences. This implies that it is difficult to ascertain how much of the positive effect of breastfeeding is causal.

This project aims to isolate the true impact of breastfeeding from unobserved aspects of maternal behaviour using statistical techniques well known in economics and best suited to non-experimental settings. In particular the study will investigate the relationship between breastfeeding and a range of individual outcomes, including child cognitive and non-cognitive development, maternal rates of postnatal depression, and mother's return to work and absenteeism.

Unobserved differences in maternal behaviour or characteristics will be dealt with by using Instrumental Variables methods and Propensity Score Matching. The information on breastfeeding, child outcomes, and maternal mental health and labour supply will be derived from two large longitudinal datasets, the Millennium Cohort Study and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.