Guest Post: Psychological benefits of breastfeeding and bonding

Painting by Alex Grey
Written by Allison Gamble

In a world so full of scientific and technological advances, there are few things that are more natural than breastfeeding. This beautiful experience that is shared between mother and child has long been known for its many health benefits, but it doesn't take a psychology degree to see the benefits breastfeeding provides mentally. Despite the fact that there are a number of ways to bond with a child, breastfeeding has been proven to not only create a physical connection, but an emotional one as well.

Although the bonding process is said to begin in the womb, many women feel that the true psychological impact begins when skin to skin contact can be made. This impact is usually enforced by the frequent contact and interaction that occurs when a child is breastfed without restrictions or schedules. Though this almost constant contact can have a number of benefits for the child, for the mother, this contact creates a feeling not only of closeness with and affection for her child, but can serve to enhance her desire to be nurturing, and can also foster a feeling of confidence and accomplishment. After all, she is providing sustenance and good health to the life she has helped to create.

Despite the fact that many common psychological aspects are directly related to the physical contact that occurs during breastfeeding, many other mental and emotional responses can be directly linked to the release of hormones. For instance, in order for the milk to drop in the mother's breasts, a hormone known as oxytocin must be released into the system. Although this hormone acts in a number of ways to help the physical process of nursing, it also has a strong influence on emotions, often creating a general sense of well-being, happiness and love. Because of this, it is easy to link the child with this new-found feeling of contentment, and thus, the connection deepens.

Two other hormones that can benefit the psychological health of the mother are prolactin and cholecystokinin. Prolactin is best known as an aid in the production of breast milk. However, it is also thought to have an influence on maternal behavior, and in some animal studies, it is shown to act as a stress reducer and pain reliever. Like prolactin, cholecystokinin is thought to work as a pain reliever, but is also said to have a relaxing effect on both mother and baby. These three hormones work together in harmony, and because of this, mothers who breastfeed are thought to be generally calmer, have lower blood pressure, and are typically more responsive to their baby's needs and emotions.

Breastfeeding is undoubtedly favored by those seeking a more natural approach to child-rearing as it not only enhances the connection between mother and child, but also fits in well with other natural practices. For instance, mothers who breastfeed are more likely to practice co-sleeping. This particular process can further enhance the bond between both the mother and father, and the father and child, as sharing a family bed makes it much easier for the father to interact in an intimate manner with the child, and assist the mother in nursing. It may also aid in fostering feelings of attachment, emotional openness and trust across the entire family.

For babies, the psychological experience of breastfeeding is in many ways similar to that of the mother. For instance, skin to skin contact helps to provide the baby with a feeling of warmth and closeness. Additionally, this contact aids in the release of oxytocin, which in turn, gives the child the same feeling of contentment as the mother. Despite this, there are several psychological factors that differ from the mother. Many of these factors occur directly at the time of nursing, while others have a more long term effect.

In the early stages of the nursing process, while adjusting to the bright, loud external world, the intimacy of breastfeeding helps the child cope with the stress of its new life. It can also help to provide a feeling of safety, continuity and reassurance. Additionally, nursing can help the child to develop the simple feelings of attachment, love and affection through the natural bonding.

Long term effects are frequently the result of the tender experiences that go hand in hand with breastfeeding. In some research studies, it has been found that children who were breastfed were generally more likely to be assertive, confident and mature during their developmental years. Some reports suggest that, in the long term, breastfed children are less likely to develop behavioral, learning and psychological issues. These factors may be due in part to the chemical factors involved in breastfeeding; however, much of the credit can be given to the intimacy and bond that is created through the practice. For example, nursing allows the child to be given undivided attention, which may play a large part in the building of confidence. Mothers who breastfeed are more likely to talk to, hug and stroke their children while feeding, which may aid in the development of a sociable or affectionate nature later in life.

Aside from the numerous nutritional, economic and even societal benefits, nursing offers a natural way to improve the lives of children, mothers and families as a whole. From time immemorial, this nurturing, nourishing practice has been performed; however, in modern times it is beginning to fall by the wayside. Despite this, advocates of breastfeeding can feel secure in the fact that they are giving their children the best possible start in life – both in body and in mind.

Author Bio: Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing.

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  1. I like this article, and your article writing style is great. thanks for it.

  2. This is a wonderful article. Thank you for writing it. I research mother-child physiological connections ( I love the picture at the top of the page and would like to use it in presentations I give. Where did you get the picture? I want to make sure I credit the right source. Feel free to email me. thank you.

  3. The wonderful painting is by Alex Grey

  4. That's a wonderful post!! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful content. Very informative, indeed breast milk is the best nutrition you can offer to your newborn. It has a tremendous health benefits to both mother and child. Thanks a lot!