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Moms Who Breast-Feed Less Likely to Neglect Child

Australian researchers suggest hormone released during act reinforces maternal bond

MONDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Mothers who breast-feed are less likely to neglect their children, Australian researchers report.

In their study, the scientists followed 7,223 Australian women and their children for 15 years and found that the longer a mother breast-fed her child, the lower the risk of neglect.

Mothers who breast-fed for less than four months were twice as likely to neglect their children as those who breast-fed four months or more. Women who didn't breast-feed were 3.8 times more likely to neglect their children as mothers who breast-fed for at least four months.

Even after they adjusted for other factors, such as socioeconomic status, substance abuse and depression, the researchers found a strong association between breast-feeding and motherly care.

The findings were published in the February issue of Pediatrics.

Previous research has suggested how breast-feeding may help form a strong mother-infant bond, study senior author Dr. Lane Strathearn, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, said in a Baylor news release.

"Oxytocin is a critical hormone produced during breast-feeding that promotes and reinforces maternal behavior. Animal studies have shown that this hormone is critical for the initiation of maternal behaviors in animals," Strathearn said. "It may be that breast-feeding stimulates oxytocin production in the brain, helping to develop the attachment relationship of the mother and her baby. Or the factors that help shape the development of the oxytocin system in the brain may predispose to successful breast-feeding and nurturance of the baby."

"Promoting breast-feeding may be a simple and cost-effective way to strengthen the mother-infant relationship. Providing the economic and social support for new mothers to stay at home with their babies may help accomplish this goal. The simple fact that women have such limited maternity leave inhibits them from strengthening this relationship," Strathearn said.

"Maternal neglect represents a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between a mother and her child, as the mom fails to provide the physical and emotional caregiving that an infant requires for optimal development. Breast-feeding may be a natural way to support the mother-infant relationship, reducing the risk of neglect in the long term."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about breast-feeding.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, Jan. 26, 2009

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