Association between breastfeeding and DNA methylation over the life course: findings from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)

Fernando Pires Hartwig*, George Davey Smith, Andrew J Simpkin, Cesar Gomes Victora, Caroline L Relton, Doretta Caramaschi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Background: Breastfeeding is associated with short and long-term health benefits. Long-term effects might be mediated by epigenetic mechanisms, yet the literature on this topic is scarce. We performed the first epigenome-wide association study of infant feeding, comparing breastfed vs non-breastfed children. We measured DNA methylation in children from peripheral blood collected in childhood (age 7 years, N = 640) and adolescence (age 15–17 years, N = 709) within the Accessible Resource for Integrated Epigenomic Studies (ARIES) project, part of the larger Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort. Cord blood methylation (N = 702) was used as a negative control for potential pre-natal residual confounding. Results: Two differentially-methylated sites presented directionally-consistent associations with breastfeeding at ages 7 and 15–17 years, but not at birth. Twelve differentially-methylated regions in relation to breastfeeding were identified, and for three of them there was evidence of directional concordance between ages 7 and 15–17 years, but not between birth and age 7 years. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that DNA methylation in childhood and adolescence may be predicted by breastfeeding, but further studies with sufficiently large samples for replication are required to identify robust associations
Original languageEnglish
Article number3309
Number of pages17
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2020


  • breastfeeding
  • life-course
  • DNA methylation
  • epigenome-wide association study

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