Breastfeeding may help strengthen the bond between a mother and her baby, according to a small new study published recently in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Study researchers found that the brains of nursing moms show a greater response to the sound of their babies’ cries than do the brains of moms who don’t breastfeed, specifically in brain regions associated with mothering behaviors, reports MSNBC.
The study examined 17 new mothers, nine of whom breastfed while the other eight formula-fed their babies. Between 2 to 4 weeks after giving birth, the moms had their brains scanned using a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) machine while listening to recordings of their own baby’s cries as well as those of other newborns. Breastfeeding moms showed greater activity in a number of brain regions, including the superior frontal gyrus, insula, precuneus, striatum and amygdala, which have been linked previously to parenting behavior in studies on animals.
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Additionally, the moms were videotaped in their homes interacting with their 3- to 4-week-olds and were rated by the researchers on how affectionate they were toward their babies, based on factors like responding appropriately when the infant was stressed. Regardless of how the moms fed their babies, greater maternal sensitivity was associated with increased activity in their right superior frontal gyrus and amygdala, said the researchers.
Plus: Study: Breastfeeding Moms Viewed As Less Competent
Researcher Pilyoung Kim of the National Institute of Mental Health, who told MSNBC that in addition to being an author of the study, she’s also the mom of a one-year-old and has herself experienced difficulty breastfeeding, hypothesized that high activity in these particular brain regions may contribute to a nursing mom’s ability to understand and respond to how her infant is feeling.
Additional research is needed on larger groups of mothers to better understand the relationship between breastfeeding and brain activity, said Kim, who added that a better understanding of this relationship may help to explain why some moms have difficulty forming an emotional bond with their child.
Did you feel like breastfeeding (or not) had any impact on your understanding of your baby’s cries?