As author Ama H. Vanniarachchy states, “The bond between a mother and her child is the only real and purest bond in the world, the only true love we can ever find in our lifetime.” This loving bond begins at birth, and proper nurturing, care, and behavior from mother to child can sustain the connection for a lifetime.
One building block that strengthens the bond between a mother and child is the foundation of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding—also known as nursing—is a natural process that helps develop a strong emotional bond between a mother and baby. This unparalleled bond is woven into the emotions and psyche of a mother and child as they connect in a unique way.
For a mother, the ability to sustain and nurture another living person creates intense feelings of satisfaction, pride, and joy. As the connection deepens, a breastfeeding relationship provides a range of positive advantages besides emotional bonding. Here is a general guide to the psychological benefits of breastfeeding.
The Significance of Breastfeeding
Why is breastfeeding significant today? Around the globe, the practice of breastfeeding continues to be a recommended method of infant feeding for early childhood development. However, breastfeeding in the modern world is ultimately a choice, not an assigned maternal behavior. The choice depends on numerous factors within a familial environment and varying characteristics of culture, education, and resources within a country.
Each relationship between a mother and her child is unique and impacts the direct pathways through which breastfeeding influences the mind and body. Nevertheless, mothers who breastfeed and nurture this form of attachment can discover a range of often-overlooked mental health and wellness effects. Consider the following psychological benefits of breastfeeding and how this practice can address common parenting challenges.
The Maternal Psychological Benefits
Numerous psychological benefits are available to mothers who elect to partake in the process of breastfeeding—the following benefits are key correlating advantages to consider.
Happy Hormones: Oxytocin and Prolactin
One psychological implication of breastfeeding relates to biological and hormonal changes during lactation. For new mothers, lactation is a unique period of time characterized by shifts in metabolic processes and hormones.
Breastfeeding produces the naturally-soothing hormones known as oxytocin and prolactin. Known for their ability to stimulate positive emotional responses, these hormones are released into the body to promote healthy mothering behaviors. Oxytocin supports the release of breast milk during lactation, while prolactin is mainly responsible for its production.
Many appreciate these hormones as the biological mediators of lactation. However, oxytocin and prolactin flow in the brain and are pivotal for maternal psychology and positive mental outcomes. These hormones influence the actions, feelings, and thoughts of new mothers and can induce general positivity and greater sensitivity to infant cues.
Maternal Bonding and Stress Regulation
Taking everything into consideration, breastfeeding is not absolutely necessary to create a maternal bond in humans. Yet, the practice can enhance certain caregiving behaviors in critical or challenging situations. This heightened maternal sensitivity remains associated exclusively with breastfeeding mothers; the fostering of mother-child emotional bonding can be helpful to those facing higher levels of psychological stressors as a parent in the early postpartum period.
Coping and Postpartum Depression
The postpartum period can be difficult for those new to motherhood—frequent sleep disturbances, worries about meeting health needs, and concerns for their little one’s safety are common during this time. Thanks to the production and circulation of hormones in nursing mothers, breastfeeding can promote longer, deeper sleep patterns to cope with these changes.
Postpartum depression is another factor worth mentioning. The link between this form of depression and breastfeeding is currently considered a two-way relationship. Breastfeeding can be a proactive step in facing depressive symptoms, yet depression in early postpartum can be a barrier to breastfeeding. Further studies are necessary to investigate the extent of the mediating benefits of breastfeeding as it relates to postpartum depression.
The Infant Psychological Benefits
Beyond mere nutrition for growth and development, breastfeeding offers psychological benefits simultaneously for infants—here are a couple to note.
The skin-to-skin contact provided by nursing encourages a social exchange between a mother and child. Human infants should naturally form attachments with any of their caregivers—such as their father or grandparents—yet nothing compares to that bond with a mother. Therefore, breastfeeding helps foster a child’s special attachment to their mother. Compared to formula-fed infants, breastfed infants generally begin recognizing their mothers sooner due to the increased exposure to olfactory cues from direct skin contact.
Higher levels of socioemotional development are typical in breastfed children. In fact, for young infants, the skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding provides can influence the way they cope with stress for the rest of their life. How? The intimate skin contact and eye-gazing help to strengthen a healthier maternal-infant bond.
This bond can be a critical foundation of a child’s confidence, maturity level, and ability to cope with difficult situations, not to mention the thought processes and comprehension that will shape their behavior through early childhood development and beyond. Nurturing a strong sense of trust, love, and protection will help a child become more independent as they grow.
Possible Barriers To Breastfeeding
These infant and maternal mental health benefits—as well as physical health benefits—are some of the primary reasons mothers strive to breastfeed. Nonetheless, there are several hurdles that may prevent new mothers from embarking on a breastfeeding journey.
Determining the best type of feeding for a child is a personal decision involving social, emotional, cultural, environmental, and psychological factors. Some mothers may also be unable to breastfeed as desired for an array of reasons that are not related to individual choice. The practice is not doable or sensible for every woman; many choose to formula-feed due to societal pressure or the demands of their careers, not to mention complications that hinder convenience.
Discomfort and Lack of Support
A number of new mothers aspire to breastfeed but stop early from difficulty, discomfort, or lack of support. Modern healthcare providers must strive to make education and care readily available to guide those mothers through the process and remedy any complications. In doing so, more mothers can discuss the possibility with a professional and become aware of the benefits of breastfeeding.
Cascade Health Care is a supplier of high-quality healthcare supplies for medical professionals, educators, consultants, and customers seeking at-home care. We carry a selection of educational tools and supplies, including breastfeeding teaching tools and models to support healthy lactation. Browse our inventory of products on our website today.