No evidence that breastfeeding promotes bonding


One of the primary reasons that women give for deciding to breastfeed is the belief that it promotes mother-infant bonding. Breastfeeding advocates have emphasized this point for years. There’s just one problem. There’s no evidence that breastfeeding promotes bonding; it’s just another cruel deception advanced by those who adore competitive mothering.

In Breastfeeding and Maternal Mental and Physical Health, a chapter in the forthcoming book Women’s Health Psychology, Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook and colleagues supply an exhaustive review of the existing literature.

The authors appear to strongly favor breastfeeding, but even they have to admit:

Conventional wisdom holds that breastfeed- ing helps mothers bond with their babies. In fact, one of the most common reasons given by women for wanting to breastfeed is the opportunity to bond with their children. In the scientific literature as well, breastfeeding is often assumed to aid in maternal–infant attachment, without necessarily giving reference to direct evidence. Given this, it is surprising that only a few studies have actually tested this hypothesis in humans, and even fewer have found significant results. Here, we review the small literature on the impact of breastfeeding on the mother–child bond. Briefly, however, we found no studies with evidence that breastfed infants are more securely attached to their mothers than formula-fed infants.

So if there’s no evidence that breastfeeding promotes bonding, where did the idea come from? It came from the same place as most claims of attachment parenting advocates: they made it up. In the absence of any evidence to support the claim, why has it been promoted so vigorously and so widely? For a very simple reason: it raises the stakes in the ongoing battle of competitive mothering.

Competitive mothering, which reaches its apogee in the philosophy of attachment parenting, is all about investing relatively unimportant infant caring practices with major benefits, both real and fabricated, mostly fabricated. Why? Because parenting is hard, and pretending that there are only a few physical tasks that you must perform makes it much easier to feel good about your parenting. It’s hard to parent a child, involving years of caring, worrying, helping and standing by to pick up children when they fall. Even then, you will not find out how you’ve done for nearly two decades, when the child is finally grown, and you may find that your efforts have not produced the results that you would have desired.

How much easier then to pretend that a few relatively meaningless task of infant caring have outsize significance and can determine which mothers are the best mothers. That’s why many attachment parenting advocates cling desperately to attachment parenting behaviors whether they benefit a particular infant, whether they strain a marriage or whether a child has demonstrated that he or she no longer wants to be treated like an infant.

The bottom line is that there is no evidence that breastfeeding has any impact on maternal-child bonding. Despite the lack of evidence, attachment parenting advocates continue to promote this lie because it serves them well in their primary task: building their own self-esteem. Wait, what? You thought attachment parenting was about babies? Don’t be silly. This was never about babies, only about some mothers and their deep seated need to feel superior to other women.