Women Who Breastfeed are Less Likely to Neglect

A large scale study shows that women who breastfeed their infants are less likely to neglect them.

The fifteen-year study included 7,223 Australian children. The mothers, of an average age of 25, were separated into three groups: 40 percent breastfed for four months, 40 percent for less than four months, and 20 percent did not breastfeed.

‘This is the first study that has looked at maltreatment,’ senior study author Lane Strathearn said last week. ‘The longer a mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk is of neglecting her infant.’

Women who did not breastfeed their children at all were four times more likely to neglect their children, even after adjusting for factors such as low socioeconomic status and education.

This would be one of those chicken and egg studies: Are certain types of women who become mothers more likely to breastfeed, or does a certain type of bonding take place because of breastfeeding?

Oh, yeah, the study’s findings will be controversial.  Joan Wolf, a Texas A &M professor who has written extensively on the breastfeeding battles between women, agrees that the results are “probably right”. She points to the difference between “can’t” breastfeed and “won’t”.

The research is currently in the online edition of the journal Pediatrics and will be in print form in February.

Image: Raphael Goetter on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Comments

  1. My first response just on seeing the headline was exactly that… is this a “chicken and egg” situation. Are women who choose not to breastfeed of a particular mindset that is more likely to neglect their infant?

    If so, is it a psychological thing, or a social thing? Many popular parenting practices (Ezzo, as a typical example) encourage such dissociation from your infant and unhealthy care practices, that neglect could very well be an eventual risk. In those cases, mothers went in with all the best of intentions, but bad advice led them astray.

    It’s certainly possible to bottlefeed with love. I have a dear friend right now who breastfed her first two, but had serious problems with her third. Tried everything, but “first, feed the baby” so she had to use formula… she even tried re-lactating a few months later… She’s heartbroken, but determined to keep a strong bond, by feeding while snuggled in a wrap, for instance.

    But it’s also certainly EASIER to maintain that bond with breastfeeding. The fact that she’s going to extraordinary measures to maintain the same connection she experienced with her first two is evidence of that. Most mothers who do not have that experience for comparison, probably do not take those extra measures. It’s not that they don’t love their babies, obviously… they just don’t realize that there’s “more” because they’ve not experienced it.

    It’s certainly an interesting study, and certainly will be controversial!

  2. We also have to remember that socioeconomic status (which was adjusted for) might cause a woman to not breastfeed, or to stop “early”. With my older son, I breastfed and pumped, but because I was a single mom, I had to go back to work at 6 weeks. Soon after, I was working full time. At 4 months, I had to supplement with organic soy formula. I was still pumping, but leaving care providers with formula “just in case.”

    This time, being a WAHM, I’m still hardcore BFing my 10 m.o. By this age, my older son had weened.

    I think in many bottle feeding cases (all of us have anecdotal evidence), it’s not for lack of trying. And that’s what parenting right is: trying your hardest, and finding what will work best.

    Will my crazy sense of humor: I found this study early this week and forwarded it to a friend, joking, “Maybe it’s just HARDER for us to neglect our kids because they’re leached on!” (She’s one of those that commiserates with me: sometimes we do want to sell our children to the circus!) ;)

  3. I think this is just another way to make those of us who formula feed feel bad. Me and 2 of my sisters have children. I couldn’t breastfeed but wanted to, one sister was the same way and the third had no desire to breastfeed. We all love our children and are all bonded to them.

    After reading this article I just wanted to yell “Bull$%it!”.

  4. I think a lot of it has to do with the mom’s mindset while nursing, not just the fact that she breastfeeds (so, a bottle-feeding mom could, potentially, have a similarly positive side-effect if she is still using that time to bond with her child).
    I grew up in an abusive situation and often find myself having to remove myself and re-center so that I don’t repeat some parenting mistakes that are deeply ingrained in me. I have found that if I use that time to really focus on nursing and connecting with my youngest it benefits ALL my kids, not just my youngest. I wonder, also, if some of this has to do with the chemical response the body has to nursing. I started off supplementing my youngest and have recently poured a lot of energy and time into getting back to exclusive nursing. I have noticed an increase in my moods and my ability to cope with the chaos in our family (whose household isn’t a bit chaotic when you have three kids under five?). Obviously a mom’s ability to cope with the family and with the exhaustion that comes with a new baby will have a direct impact on her ability to not neglect her child/children.
    I know what it’s like to be on the bottle-feeding side of the fence, and the exclusive breastfeeding side of the fence. I know that we don’t want to make bottle-feeding moms feel guilty, but there really is something about breastfeeding that cannot be replaced or supplemented, no matter how hard the mom tries.

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