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Understanding the Longterm Effects of Breastfeeding on Children’s Life Chances

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigator:   Martha J. Bailey

Breastfeeding has become synonymous with best practice in infant care. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “firmly adheres to the position that breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant” (Pediatrics 2005). According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “breastfeeding is one of the most important contributors to infant health” including benefits to infants’ growth, immunity and development as well as to mothers’ health. Given the strong consensus on the benefits of breastfeeding in the medical literature, it is surprising that the evidence on these claims is not definitive. The vast majority of evidence is based on observational studies that have difficulty accounting for latent differences between mothers who breastfeed their infants and those who do not. Even the recent Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT) failed to provide conclusive evidence on the topic, because women who received the intervention were significantly more educated and more likely to be first time mothers (Kramer et al. 2001, table 1: p. 416) and articles using these data fail to control for these differences. Our study’s primary objective is to develop and implement a quasi-experimental strategy for examining the effects of breastfeeding on children’s long-run outcomes in the U.S. The ultimate aim is to use this quasi-experimental strategy to address problems of omitted variables bias in observational studies and the small sample sizes and short time horizons of randomized interventions.

Funding Period: 03/01/2012 to 06/30/2013

Country of Focus: USA

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