The nutritional and physical health benefits of breastfeeding are obvious, the psychological effects of breastfeeding on the child and the mother are often never discussed. Studies suggest that breastfeeding impacts children’s brain and socio-emotional growth. In a mother, breastfeeding influences mood, affect, stress, and care. This article explores a broad overview of existing findings on the psychological effects of breastfeeding, highlighting the important role that breastfeeding plays in the psychological growth of a child, the potential mechanisms that underpin the effects.
Breastfeeding is the “gold standard” food source in the first months of a newborn’s life. The World Health Organization recommends at least six months, which is defined by breastmilk as the only source of nourishment. In addition to being a critical nutritious ingredient to the infant, breastfeeding is not simply a meal but also has significant and lasting effects on the behaviour, and mental health of children.
In one such study, a higher frequency of breastfed meals and the duration of breastfeeding during the first year were found to be positively associated with measures of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development including memory, language, and motor skills at 14 months and 18 months of age. Importantly, these cognitive benefits of breastfeeding seen in infancy have been shown to endure into childhood and adolescence.
In addition to the effects on children’s cognitive and brain development, there is evidence that breastfeeding also has an impact on social and emotional growth in children. There is work that suggests breastfeeding experience is associated with differences in infant temperament. As an example, a 3-month-old breastfed infant is reported to show negative effects than formula-fed infants. Similarly, bad temperament like fussiness has been found to be with a prolonged duration of breastfeeding during infancy. On the other hand, another study found that breastfed infants were reported to have more vigor at 3 months, characterized by a greater approach, than babies who are formula-fed.
Research indicates a negative association between breastfeeding experience and aggression in behavior. For eg, the duration of breastfeeding experience has shown to correlate negatively with parent-reported antisocial behavior in children from 4 to 10 years of age. These effects on antisocial behavior appear to outstretch well beyond infancy into adulthood. A study following adults from 21 to 45 years of age found significantly greater amounts of hostile behavior in adults who were not breastfed as infants compared to those who were breastfed.
In conclusion, breastfeeding is a significant indicator of a child’s personality. Where all their cognitive-behavioral patterns depend on how long they were breastfed and how they were breastfed. In the end, a mother’s love will make you who you are.