Breastfeeding Moms Have Deeper Response to Baby's Cry

Christie Haskell

The "breastfeeding bond" is a very controversial subject. Obviously, it's unfair to even suggest that moms who use bottles, whether it's formula or breast milk in them, don't bond with their babies, and fortunately that's not true in the slightest. In fact, what often dictates how a bottle-feeding mom bonds is HOW she bottle feeds. Great bonds can form when a bottle-feeding mom cuddles the baby or feeds like at the breast, meaning the baby is held close, making eye contact. Bottle-propping does not help with a bond.

However, a recent study from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry has found that there is a distinct difference in the emotional response breastfeeding moms have versus formula-feeding, especially in those first few months.

The study says that a breastfeeding mom's brain showed a greater response to baby's cry, especially in the caregiving and empathy parts of the brain.

I know, I know ... no one likes to hear that there's any difference EVER between formula-feeding and breastfeeding moms, especially when it comes to something like how you are emotionally. The study suggests that the hormones released into the body while breastfeeding, especially prolactin and oxytocin, the chemicals responsible for euphoria and relaxation, "may all play an important role for mothers' brain activity and parenting behaviours during the early postpartum period."

Honestly, I can see it, I really can. I've both bottle-fed and breastfed ... I supplemented a newborn Rowan with formula for the first few weeks when we didn't understand his reflux nor did I understand breastfeeding. Bottle-feeding for me, even when I was cuddling my baby and looking into his eyes, was just ... different. I didn't love him any less or treat him any different, of course, but when I'd nurse him instead, I'd get the hormones that made me relax or sometimes even almost fall asleep, and sometimes I have to admit after a stressful day with my toddlers, getting them to just lay down and nurse calms ME down almost as much as them. It's nothing against bottles, of course, but there's no rush of hormones when you use a bottle, even if it's breast milk in it.

My guess too is when you formula-feed, other people feed your baby as well. You don't have a hormonal response every time your baby cries, then a chemical release every time you nurse them and get them to stop crying, so your body probably doesn't learn that every time the baby cries, you'll get "feel good" hormones. In that way, breastfeeding can be almost addictive, and it's why so many nursing moms hear a baby crying, even one that's not their own, and can have let-down and just want to nurse. But these are my thoughts, not the study's, obviously.

Of course, you don't want moms who can't or don't breastfeed to feel like they're being told they can't bond, because that's totally not true. The lead researcher, Dr. Pilyoung Kim, says, "It is important for loved ones to support mothers and help them cope with challenges related to breastfeeding and parenting during this period. Mothers unable to breastfeed may benefit from extra encouragement to engage in sensitive, caring interactions with baby."

I think taking the time to be with your newborn, maybe something like a "baby moon," can be super-important to early bonding.

Do you think the hormones breastfeeding moms feel changes how they feel emotionally when their baby cries?


Image via honey-bee/Flickr

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