Breast-Feeding Mentally Bonds Mothers to Infants, Study Finds

Filed under: In The News, Breast-Feeding

Breastfeeding

This can lead to spooky intuition. Credit: Getty Images

Who needs a baby monitor when you have a mother's almost spooky intuition?

MSNBC reports breast-feeding does more than nourish newborns. It may actually alter a woman's brain to make her more sensitive to her baby's cries.

Researchers tell MSNBC the brains of breast-feeding mothers show a greater response to the sound of their babies' cries than do the brains of mothers who don't breast-feed. The boost in brain activity can actually be seen in regions associated with motherhood.

Researcher Pilyoung Kim of the National Institute of Mental Health tells MSNBC this phenomena may help babies as they begin to socially interact with the rest of the world.

Kim tells the network the study serves as another example of why it's important to support mothers who breast-feed their children.

"I understand the challenges mothers have," Kim tells MSNBC. "Regardless of their decision, I think it is critical during this early postpartum period that they seek support and encouragement from others, especially when they feel very stressed and challenged by the new demands because of the new parenting experience."

Kim and her fellow researchers looked at 17 new moms. Nine of the women breast-fed while the other eight used formula.

Two to four weeks after giving birth, MSNBC reports, researchers scanned the mothers' brains using a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) machine while they listened to recordings of both their own baby's cries and the cries of newborns who weren't their children.

The network reports researchers found increased brain activity, especially in thee superior frontal gyrus, striatum and amygdala. This mirrors studies in animals.

Researchers also examined the mothers at home. The women were videotaped interacting with their 3- to 4-week-old infants, MSNBC reports. Researchers rated mothers on how affectionate they were toward their babies.

Whether or not mothers breast-fed their babies, increased activity in the mothers' superior frontal gyrus and amygdala -- the areas of the brain associated with empathy -- was connected with the level of TLC they showed their babies.

The affected brain regions are "definitely doing something to help process the information and perhaps motivate the mothers to exhibit more care-giving behaviors," Kim tells MSNBC.

The network reports hormones released during breast-feeding, such as oxytocin, may contribute to brain and behavioral changes in the mother. Kim adds research is needed on larger groups of people to better understand the relationship between breastfeeding and brain responses.

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