One more reason to believe breast is best: a new study suggests that moms who breastfeed bond better with their babies.
By watching moms’ brains light up in an fMRI while listening to infants crying, they found that all moms reacted more strongly to their own child’s cry than that of another baby. The breastfeeding moms had a much more pronounced reaction though, suggesting a stronger bond with their infant.
Before you leap on this bit of data as proof that breastfeeding is the only way to go, researchers caution that it’s hardly conclusive.
The study was small, for starters. It was also fairly homogenous, consisting almost totally of white, middle-class, college-educated mamas. The study didn’t have a particular agenda, its authors say. They just wanted to see how mother’s brains reacted to hearing cries, and if there was a difference in breastfeeding moms. They think a number of factors influenced the differences they found:
Hormonal levels, for example, vary between mothers who breast-feed and those who don’t. Oxytocin — the “love hormone” that helps nurture emotional bonding between infants and mothers and is involved in breast milk let-down — is higher in breast-feeding moms. But psychological aspects are also likely at play.
It’s possible that moms who breastfeed are more empathetic to begin with, and that greater empathy may influence both their decision to breastfeed and their stronger reaction to hearing their child cry.
While this study was small and not definitive, the results seem to be in keeping with the widespread beliefs of breastfeeding moms that their choice to nurse their babies helps them bond. I’m certainly not surprised that the breastfeeding mothers had a stronger response to hearing their babies cry.
I’m well aware that not all women can breastfeed, and that some choose not to for good reasons. But I think breastfeeding does give moms a special intimacy with their babies that you can’t get any other way.
Of course this study was done when the babies were only a month old. Just as I’m not surprised that breastfeeding moms of newborns were more strongly bonded than formula feeding moms. I also wouldn’t be surprised if that gap disappeared as the babies grow older and mother-child pairs have a wider range of ways to bond together. I’d be interested to see follow-up research on this group over the first year or two of the babies lives.
What do you think? Did breastfeeding help you and your baby bond? Or is bottle feeding just as good?
More on newborn nutrition: Babble’s Baby Feeding Channel