Breastfeeding longer may improve mothers' sensitivity
Women who breastfeed their children for longer periods exhibit more maternal sensitivity well past the infant and toddler years, according to a study.
Maternal sensitivity was defined as the synchronous timing of a mother's responsiveness to her child, her emotional tone, her flexibility in her behaviour and her ability to read her child's cues.
"It was surprising to us that breastfeeding duration predicted change over time in maternal sensitivity," said lead author Jennifer Weaver, from the Boise State University in Idaho.
"We had prior research suggesting a link between breastfeeding and early maternal sensitivity, but nothing to indicate that we would continue to see effects of breastfeeding significantly beyond the period when breastfeeding had ended."
Further, even though increased breastfeeding duration led to greater maternal sensitivity over time, the effect sizes were small.
That means the close interaction experienced during breastfeeding may be only one of many ways the bond is strengthened between mother and child, according to the study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology.
Conversely, there was no correlation between the mother's breastfeeding length and father's sensitivity toward their children.
For the study, the team analysed data from interviews with 1,272 families, when their infants were a month old, and followed them periodically until the children turned 11.
However, the study is not intended to diminish the bonding experiences of women who are not able to breastfeed, Weaver said.
"Ultimately, I do hope that we will see breastfeeding examined more closely as a parenting factor, not just as a health consideration, to allow us to more fully understand the role that breastfeeding plays in family life," Weaver noted.