Consuming Sugary Beverages While Breastfeeding Affects Cognitive Development in Children

Summary: Study reports a link between the consumption of sugary drinks and diets high in sugars in breastfeeding mothers and cognitive developmental problems in their babies.

Source: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

A diet high in sugar during adulthood is associated with weight gain, and has also been linked to risk of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. New research shows that when consumed by moms during the breastfeeding period, a high sugar diet can also impact developmental outcomes during infancy.

Michael I. Goran, PhD, Program Director for Diabetes and Obesity at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, has studied how sugar can impact family health. His previous research has shown that moms who consume sugary beverages and juices in the months after giving birth are at risk for weight gain, and may also expose their newborns to these added sugars through breast milk.

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that consuming these beverages during the breastfeeding period may also lead to poorer cognitive development in children nearly two years later.

The participants were 88 mothers who reported sugary beverages and juices consumed per day during the first month of breastfeeding. Their children were assessed using the Bayley-III Scales of Infant Development at 2 years old. Moms who reported greater consumption of sugary beverages and juices had children with poorer cognitive development scores.

The researchers speculated that added sugar from the mom’s diet was passed to their infant through breast milk, and this exposure could conceivably interfere with brain development.

This shows a mom feeding a baby
Moms who reported greater consumption of sugary beverages and juices had children with poorer cognitive development scores. Image is in the public domain.

“Breastfeeding can have so many benefits,” says Dr. Goran, “but we’re seeing that breast milk is influenced by what moms eat and drink even more than we realized.” He says that limiting added sugars, found in beverages such as soft drinks, may have benefits not only for moms, but also for babies. “Moms may not realize that what they eat and drink during breastfeeding may influence their infant’s development down the road, but that’s what our results indicate.”

“Ultimately, we want babies to receive the best quality nutrition,” says Paige K. Berger, PhD, RD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow and first author of the study. “Our findings may be used to guide future nutrition recommendations for moms during breastfeeding, to better ensure that babies are getting the right building blocks for cognitive development.”

Funding: The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (K99 HD098288), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (R012DK110793), and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (UL1TR001855 and UL1TR000130). This work was also funded by the Gerber Foundation (15PN-013).

About this neurodevelopment research news

Source: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles
Contact: Press Office – Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles
Image: The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access.
Associations of maternal fructose and sugar-sweetened beverage and juice intake during lactation with infant neurodevelopmental outcomes at 24 months” by Paige K Berger, Jasmine F Plows, Roshonda B Jones, Tanya L Alderete, Claudia Rios,Trevor A Pickering, David A Fields, Lars Bode, Bradley S Peterson, Michael I Goran. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


Associations of maternal fructose and sugar-sweetened beverage and juice intake during lactation with infant neurodevelopmental outcomes at 24 months


Our prior studies revealed that infant somatic growth is influenced by fructose in breast milk, and fructose in breast milk is increased in response to maternal sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake in lactation. It is unknown whether infant neurodevelopmental outcomes are also influenced by maternal SSBs in lactation.


To determine whether infant cognitive development at 24 postnatal months was influenced by maternal fructose consumption during lactation, and whether this relation persisted after accounting for maternal SSB and juice (SSB + J) intake.Methods

Hispanic mother–infant pairs (n = 88) were recruited across the spectrum of prepregnancy BMI. Mothers completed two 24-h dietary recalls at 1 and 6 postnatal months, and reported breastfeedings per day. The Bayley-III Scales of Infant Development were administered at 24 postnatal months to assess infant cognition. Linear regressions were used to examine associations, reported as unstandardized (B) coefficients, 95% CIs, and P values.


Mothers consumed 1656 ± 470 kcal, 21.8 ± 12 g fructose, and 2.5 ± 2.6 servings SSBs + J, and reported 6.9 ± 2.1 breastfeedings per day at 1 postnatal month. Controlling for maternal age, prepregnancy BMI, education level, kilocalories, infant age, sex, and birthweight revealed that infant cognitive development scores at 24 postnatal months correlated inversely with maternal fructose consumption at 1 postnatal month (B = −0.08; 95% CI = −0.13, −0.03; P < 0.01). The association of infant cognitive development scores with maternal fructose consumption was no longer significant after adjustment for maternal SSB + J intake (B = −0.05; 95% CI = −0.10, 0.00; P = 0.07), whereas maternal SSB + J intake was significant in the same model (B = −0.29; 95% CI = −0.52, −0.05; P = 0.02). Infant cognitive development scores were not associated with maternal fructose and SSB + J consumption at 6 postnatal months.


Our findings suggest that infant neurodevelopmental outcomes at 24 postnatal months can be adversely influenced by maternal fructose intake in early lactation, and this could be attributed to maternal SSB + J intake.

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