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Breastfeeding and timing of pubertal onset in girls: a multiethnic population-based prospective cohort study

Early puberty is associated with higher risk of adverse health and behavioral outcomes throughout adolescence and adulthood. US girls are experiencing earlier puberty with substantial racial/ethnic differences. We examined the association between breastfeeding and pubertal timing to identify modifiable risk factors of early puberty and potential sources of racial/ethnic differences in the timing of pubertal development. A prospective cohort study of 3331 racially/ethnically diverse girls born at Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) between 2004 and 06. All data were obtained from KPNC electronic clinical and administrative datasets. Mother-reported duration of breastfeeding was obtained from questionnaires administered at each ‘well-baby’ check-up exam throughout the baby’s first year and categorized as ‘Not breastfed’, ‘Breastfed < 6 months', and 'Breastfed ≥ 6 months'. Pubertal development data used Tanner stages assessed by pediatricians during routine pediatric checkups starting at age 6. Pubertal onset was defined as transition from Tanner Stage 1 to Tanner Stage 2+ for breast (thelarche) and pubic hair (pubarche). Weibull regression models accommodating for left, right, and interval censoring were used in all analyses. Models were adjusted for maternal age, education, race/ethnicity, parity and prepubertal body mass index (BMI). We also examined race/ethnicity as a potential effect modifier of these associations. Not breastfeeding was associated with earlier onset of breast and pubic hair development compared to breastfeeding ≥6 months (adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 1.25; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.07-1.46; HR: 1.24; 95% CI: 1.05-1.46, respectively). Breastfeeding for < 6 months was also associated with the risk of earlier pubic hair development (HR: 1.14; 95% CI: 1.00-1.30, compared to breastfeeding ≥6 months). Inclusion of girls' prepubertal BMI slightly attenuated the association between breastfeeding and timing of breast onset but remained significant. The association between not breastfeeding and early breast development may be stronger among African American girls (HR: 1.92; 95% CI: 1.01-3.66, no breastfeeding vs. ≥6 months) than other racial/ethnic groups. Breastfeeding is an independent predictor of pubertal onset in girls, and the strength of the association may vary by race/ethnicity. Providing breastfeeding support and lactation education for high risk mothers may help prevent earlier pubertal onset and promote positive health outcomes later in life.

Authors: Aghaee S; Deardorff J; Greenspan LC; Quesenberry CP; Kushi LH; Kubo A

BMC Pediatr. 2019 08 09;19(1):277. Epub 2019-08-09.

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