It should be no surprise to anyone that breastfeeding is extremely beneficial for both the baby and mother. Many women are unable to breastfeed or choose not to, but for those who do, it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to continue for at least 12 months. (The World Health Organization even encourages mothers to breastfeed up to two years).
The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. Beyond the bonding that occurs between the mother and child, the AAP lists the following as diseases and conditions that can be prevented as a result of breastfeeding:
- respiratory tract infection
- necrotizing enterocolitis
- otitis media
- urinary tract infection
- late-onset sepsis in preterm infants
- type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkins disease
- childhood overweight and obesity
Additionally, the following are benefits that the mother can experience:
- decreased postpartum bleeding and more rapid uterine involution
- decreased menstrual blood loss and increased child spacing (lactational amenorrhea)
- earlier return to prepregnancy weight
- decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers
While many people might assume that the bond formed during breastfeeding might just continue through infancy, new research has shown that it could last for much longer. The study, which was published in the journal Developmental Psychology, showed that maternal sensitivity as a result of breastfeeding could last well past the infant and toddler stages.
According to Science Daily, “Maternal sensitivity was defined as the synchronous timing of a mother’s responsiveness to her child, her emotional tone, her flexibility in her behavior and her ability to read her child’s cues.”
The study was based on interviews with 1,272 families who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care. Parents were observed interacting with their children while playing and completing problem-solving tasks. The researchers rated the “quality of the collaborative interaction, such as the mother’s level of support, respect for her child’s autonomy and levels of hostility.”
What they found was that “breastfeeding duration predicted change over time in maternal sensitivity,” according to the study’s lead author, Jennifer Weaver, PhD, of Boise State University. “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.”
The researchers involved in the study did not want to diminish the bond that occurs between children and mothers who do not breastfeed. Rather they were surprised to see the bond in breastfeeding families last as long as it did.