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When a mother breastfeeds she is protecting her child from herself

The title of this post is the finding of a new study by Australian researchers. They found that women that didn't breastfeed were more than 4 times as likely to be reported for maternal neglect than those that breastfed for 4 months or longer. The Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy is Australia's largest longitudinal study tracking mothers and their children with reports of maltreatment recorded by the Department of Child Safety.

The article on the study asks some good questions. It questions whether it is the release of oxytocin that makes the mother less likely to neglect her child (in which case exclusively pumping would have the same protective effect) or whether it is the bonding (in which case bottle "nursing", i.e. bottle feeding with love would have a similar protective effect).

Those are good questions and I would add another one. I wonder whether mothers that plan to breastfeed (because they know it is best for baby) are also less likely to neglect their baby because they are the type of person that is focused on doing what is best for their child. If that is the case, then we would expect the same protective effect among mothers that wanted to breastfeed and were not able to and therefore either formula fed with love or exclusively pumped.
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Reader Comments (9)

I would expect that this effect is more correlative than causal, but I do think oxytocin makes much of early parenting that much more manageable and enjoyable :)

January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeagan Francis

I agree with Meagan, because I read someplace that women with higher IQ are breastfeeding more than others so it might also be related with not neglecting their children and being more concerned for their welfare. Yet, I still think there is an emotional factor where mothers feel that they are physically responsible for caring for their babies and that if it were not for them the baby would starve so it makes the bond stronger.

January 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjessyz

That was my thought as well - that it's not so much that breastfeeding prevents a mother from neglecting her child, but that the type of mother who chooses to breastfeed her child is less likely to be the type of mother who would neglect her child.

January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

I found this very interesting I would say that if a mother is choosing to breast-feed for the health of her baby it could show that she is more worried about her child's needs. (not saying that mothers that formula feed are not) I did both. I would also like to say that I was very young when I had Aiden and the local health department gave me pamphlet after pamphlet about how co-sleeping is bad and completely anti-attachment parenting. I would have been happier know more about attachment parenting. I am a little upset they don't educate people about different choices. sorry comment is so long :)

January 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

I will chime in here and say that I, too, assume that the decrease in likelihood of a mother neglecting her baby if her baby is breastfed must come in part from the type of mother who would choose to breastfeed at all. I also think that there is a more substantial, emotional connection to our baby when we (breastfeeding mothers) are the only person who can completely tend to that child's most basic of needs. We know we are needed and we are hard-wired connected to that little individual. Our breastfed babies spend so much MORE time physically in our arms than the time their bottle-fed peers spent in the arms of their own mothers (regardless of what is in the bottle). It is therefore most likely that we know our children more intimately than anyone else can know a baby. We know the rhythm of their heart, the heat of their skin and the silkiness of their touch. I personally believe that this connection makes the bonds stronger and therefore less likely to be able to be broken via abandonment or neglect.

January 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterbabyREADY

I would love to see a study with a matched control group...that is, a group with equal risk factors (education level, socioeconomic background, etc.)...that looked at breastfeeding and its effect on neglect. This would help show if breastfeeding is in and of itself protective, or just "along for the ride" with other protective factors.

January 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

I agree that would be interesting to see. I'm not sure if this study did that or not. The results are to be published next month in the journal http://www.physorg.com/news151931908.html" rel="nofollow">Pediatrics. Certainly if the full results are available somewhere, I'd love to look at them more closely.

In any case, we do know that there is a need to convince mothers in lower socioeconomic cohorts to breastfeed, for many reasons and it is also difficult to do for many reasons. I talked about that more here: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/09/19/lactivism-and-the-homelessness-problem/" rel="nofollow">Lactivism and the Homelessness Problem.

January 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] to Annie for not entirely falling for this one, BTW. The title of her post could use some work though, [...]

[...] to Annie for not entirely falling for this one, BTW. The title of her post could use some work though, [...]

January 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterA pediatric bonanza! « M

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