Background: In an earlier series of studies, we documented the effects of feeding practices and postnatal maternal mood on the growth and development of 226 Barbadian children during the first few months of life. In this report, we extend our earlier studies by examining predictive relationships between infant size, feeding practices and postpartum maternal moods and scores on a national high school examination, the Common Entrance Examination (CEE), at 11 to 12 years of age.
Methods: Feeding practices, anthropometry, and maternal moods, using Zung depression and anxiety scales and a morale scale, were assessed at 7 weeks (n = 158), 3 months (n = 168), and 6 months (n = 209) postpartum. Background variables including sociodemographic and home environmental factors were also assessed during infancy. CEE scores on 169 of the children in the original study were obtained from the Ministry of Education of Barbados.
Results: In our sample of 86 boys and 83 girls, we found that reduced infant lengths and weights at 3 and 6 months of age were predictive of lower CEE, especially math scores. Children who were smaller at these early ages had significantly lower scores on the examination than did larger children. Postpartum maternal moods, including reports of despair and anxiety, were also found to be significant predictors of lower CEE scores, especially English scores. However, breast-feeding and other feeding practices were not directly associated with the CEE scores. Background variables, which significantly predicted lower CEE scores, included young maternal age at the time of her first pregnancy, more children in the home, less maternal education, and fewer home conveniences. Significant associations between infant anthropometry, maternal moods and CEE scores were all significant even when these background variables were controlled for.
Conclusions: These findings have important implications for developing interventions early in life to improve academic test scores and future opportunities available to children in this setting.