Breastfeeding a newborn baby

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From a health point of view, breastfeeding has lots of benefits in terms of increased immunity for the infant and less likelihood of obesity later on. However, there is a question over whether breastfeeding actually affects a mother’s attachment to her child (the strong emotional bond between a mother and he child). Many breastfeeding advocates say that not breastfeeding your child leads to a weakened emotional bond between the mother and her baby but is this really true? Many mothers who give up breastfeeding early on or who are unable to breastfeed from the start may feel guilty enough about it without being told it will worsen the emotional bond with their child. Many of my friends had problems breastfeeding their first child for various reasons, having a premature baby, having a baby with tongue-tie (a condition where the underside of the tongue is too tightly bound to the floor of the mouth for the baby to breastfeed easily), getting mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue) or not producing enough milk. I heard many comments when my son was a baby about breastfeeding leading to a better bond with your child but I felt pretty sceptical about this. Especially as when I was breastfeeding,  my son’s face was turned inwards so there was little eye contact.

So what does psychological research say about breastfeeding and attachment? Britton et al. (2006) found no direct link between breastfeeding and the security of attachment (the strength of the emotional bond between a mother and child). However, they did find that the more responsive and sensitive a mother was to her baby, the more securely attached the baby was later on. Interestingly, although the study did not find the actual act of breastfeeding led to the secure attachment, it did find that mothers who chose to breastfeed were also more likely to responsive to their infants. Note that not all mothers who chose to breastfeed were responsive to their child. Furthermore, mothers who choose to bottle-feed for reasons outside their control may be just as responsive.

The idea that breastfeeding does not affect the emotional bond between a mother and baby relates to a study by Harlow (1969). He took baby monkeys and raised them in a laboratory, giving them a wire monkey to feed from and a cloth monkey to get comfort from or hold onto. The monkeys formed strong attachments to the cloth monkey, but not with the wire one. Harlow concluded that you need comfort more than food for a secure attachment.

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