Moms who nurse longer show more 'maternal sensitivity'

Nov. 20, 2017—Could breastfeeding make you a more nurturing mother? A new study suggests it might.

Researchers studied 1,272 couples with a child born in 1991. It found that women who nursed their babies longer were more sensitive mothers. That was true even when their kids were 11 years old.

On average, the moms nursed for 17 weeks. Nearly 75 percent of mothers reported some breastfeeding. Only about 25 percent nursed for 6 months or longer.

How moms and kids interact

The researchers watched videos of the parents interacting with their child. The interactions took place at eight different times from birth through age 11.

For example, at six months the moms and babies played with a set of toys. When the children were four, they completed a maze together.

The researchers also rated each interaction for what they called "parental sensitivity."

Through age 3, the rating was based on three things:

  • How well they read their child's cues.
  • How positively they regarded their child.
  • How intrusive they found their child.

After age 3, the researchers looked at different measures:

  • How supportive they were.
  • How much they respected their child's independence.
  • How much hostility they displayed toward their child.

The researchers found that even after a decade, mothers who nursed longer showed more maternal sensitivity. Breastfeeding didn't affect fathers' sensitivity.

But the study has limitations. For instance, the researchers didn't know if moms just nursed or if they also bottle-fed.

And while there was a clear connection between breastfeeding and more sensitive mothering, the effect was a small one, the researchers said.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Another reason to nurse

Many things affect the relationship between a mom and her child. And mothers who bottle-feed can—and do—develop deep bonds with their children.

But this study adds to the already long list of breastfeeding benefits. Breast milk provides the perfect first food. It helps babies fight off disease and can prevent some allergies and tummy troubles. And nursing may reduce a mom's risk of developing cancer in her breasts or ovaries.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it's best to just breastfeed for 6 months. After that, the baby can eat solid foods but should still keep breastfeeding for at least a year.

To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, you can read this article: Breast milk is best for your baby.

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