Washington: Women who breastfeed their children longer exhibit more maternal sensitivity well past the infant and toddler years, according to a 10 year long
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.
Researchers, including those from Boise State University in the US, analysed data from interviews with 1,272 families.
They were recruited when their infants were a month old, mothers completed a home interview and became part of the initial study sample.
The sample included a substantial proportion of less-educated parents – 30 per cent had no college education, and ethnic minority families – 13 per cent were African-American.
In the study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, women breastfed for an average of 17 weeks. Fewer than one per cent breastfed for 24 months and 29 per cent did not breastfeed at all.
Researchers interviewed and videotaped families in their homes periodically until their child turned 11.
Parents interacted with their children during free play scenarios and age-appropriate problem-solving tasks. Researchers found that 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, said Jennifer Weaver
from Boise State University.
“It was surprising to us that breastfeeding duration predicted change over time in maternal sensitivity,” Weaver said.
“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,” Weaver said.
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