Mother Lion With Cub There’s a new fun fact about breastfeeding moms, and it’s kind of funny to me: Apparently we’re more likely to become aggressive when defending our young, and it’s getting a lot of play in the media about “mama bears” and that kind of thing.

Yeah, I’m a total lactivist bent on improving the chances that moms everywhere will have the opportunity to breastfeed their babies. But I don’t want to go too far in defense of breastfeeding -- this time.

Because I know a couple moms who formula-fed their kids who would kick your everlovin’ heinie if you ever messed with their kids. And I think we need to keep that in mind before we make assumptions about the quality of anyone else's mothering. So about this study ... let's delve into it, shall we?

Scientists observed that other mammals (including macaques, rats, lions, and deer -- that’s a diverse group!) display aggression more easily when lactating than at any other time in their life cycle, and wondered if the same was true for humans.

They put lactating moms in a room with someone acting “overtly rude.” When given the chance to “punish” that person with a loud, annoying noise, more lactating women did so -- louder and longer, too. The conclusion: breastfeeding women are more likely to behave aggressively to defend their babies, and -- this is kinda creepy! -- we show a lower blood-pressure while we’re doing it.

The underlying reason for this is interesting: it seems to be because of the calming hormones we give off when we breastfeed -- they give us the ability to avoid panic in favor of calmly assessing the danger and responding without fear.

In animals, this is sometimes referred to as “lactation aggression,” but I prefer the other term: “maternal defense.” Because though I love the idea that these hormones make me into a scary super-mom, I don’t want us to forget that the difference between a lactating mom and a regular-old mom is probably pretty small. Once we become moms (especially when sleep-deprived and weak with the tender-hearted pain of our expanding emotions), we all go a little ape when someone annoys us, especially when it involves a threat to our kids.

In other words, compare a mom -- any mom -- to a non-mom woman, and I think any one of us is more likely to scare the daylights out of anyone threatening our pack. Could lactating moms be more so? Maybe scientifically, maybe on some cellular level, there’s a difference -- but let’s not go so far as to say we somehow love our kids more, or better, or fiercer. The science is good to know, but irresponsible extrapolation is not good science. We’re all in this together.

Do you feel fiercer, now that you're a mom?


Image via Snake3yes/Flickr