Breastfeeding has long been a conversation for many researchers regarding health benefits, psychological/personality traits, body composition changes, and social norms just to name a few. There are extensive amounts of research that prove breastfeeding and breastmilk provide health, nutritional, immunological, developmental, psychological, social, economic, and environmental benefits not only for the mother, but extend to the infant as well. My research is going to highlight the impact that breastfeeding can have on all the developmental stages of human development. Bandura (1977) and the Social Cognitive Theory place emphasis on promoting the conceptual development of breastfeeding confidence and to guide effective support interventions. We will discuss self-efficacy and how it relates to a mother’s ability to breastfeed. It will be determined that a mother who is encouraged, empowered, and supported throughout the duration of breastfeeding longer than a six-month period will promote meaningful, optimal developmental health in the infant well into adulthood.
Keywords: social norms, breastfeeding, self-efficacy
Long-Term Effects of Breastfeeding
For most mothers, it is a natural transition to breastfeed your infant. This not only promotes a nurturing relationship between infant and mother, but provides many health-related benefits to all parties involved. Sometimes, the healthcare professionals who care for children and mothers may lack access to training which can present barriers for new mothers who want to breastfeed. This research can be used as a sounding board to all mothers concerns and guide them to accurate, current information to help make appropriate decisions.
Personality traits emerge early in life and become relatively stable by early adulthood (Van den Akker, Dekovic, Asscher, ; Prinzie, 2014). Study shows that up to 50% of adult personality comes from genetics, therefore ones of the earliest life experiences in an infant is breastfeeding which links to a positive health-related outcome. Lower body mass index, less inflammation, and better cognitive functioning are all examples of how breastfeeding can be beneficial to adults. It is also stated that breastfed children may also be less confrontational and have fewer behavioral issues. The table below analyzes whether there are differences in trait and psychological functioning between participants who were breastfed versus being bottle fed.
Of these participants, 56% were not breastfed. Of the 44% who were breastfed, 33% of mothers only breastfed for 3 months or less, 24% for 3 to 6 months, 16% from 6 to 9 months, 12% from 9 to 12 months, 12% from 12 to 24 months, and only 3% past 24 months. The results showed that, regardless of duration, breastfed babies scored lower in neuroticism, anxiety, and hostility. They scored higher in openness, agreeableness, and optimism. No difference was found in breastfed versus bottle fed for extraversion or conscientiousness or any psychological functioning (stress, depressive symptoms, or well-being).
In addition to biological and social factors, the positive interaction between mother and infant play a tremendous role in psychological outcomes. Liu, Leung, ; Yang (2014) stated that breastfed children have fewer internalizing behavioural problems, specifically less anxiety/depression symptoms, than children exclusively fed with a bottle. Active bonding between the mother and child is also associated with fewer of these symptoms regardless of how the child is fed. This is interesting because what this articles findings indicate is that the ogling or glaring between mother and infant, as well as verbal interactions whether breast fed or not, promote positive psychological functioning independent of biological compounds transmitted through the milk. The compounds found in breastmilk include free water, protein accounting for 75% of the nitrogen-containing compounds, and the non-protein nitrogen substances include urea, nucleotides, peptides, free amino acids and DNA, essential fatty acids and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and trace elements.
The table below shows composition of some of the key nutrients found in breastmilk:
Component Mean value for mature breastmilk (per 100mL)
Energy (kJ) 280
Energy (kcal) 67
Protein (g) 1.3
Fat (g) 4.2
Carbohydrate (g) 7.0
Sodium (mg) 15
Calcium (mg) 35
Phosphorus (mg) 15
Iron (mcg) 76
Vitamin A (mcg) 60
Vitamin C (mg) 3.8
Vitamin D (mcg) 0.01
Mothers who breastfeed also show greater sensitivity to facial displays of emotion (Krol, Kamboj, Curran, ; Grossmann, 2014). These are just some of the ways that breastfeeding impacts adulthood. It is suggested that mothers who are emotionally stable, open, and conscientious are more likely to make the decision to breastfeed, yet mothers with self-efficacy tendencies may not breastfeed for the long haul and will dismiss the process early. Bandura (1977) defines it as a personal judgement of “how well a person can execute a course of action that is required to deal with prospective situations”.
Environmental and Social Factors1
Race, education, and age play critical roles in the relationship between breastfeeding and mothers. Studies show that mothers who breastfeed are older, have a higher education level, their economic status is higher, and tend to have an increased amount of support from family members. While this isn’t necessarily a modifier that predicts the quality of maternal care, those of lower socioeconomic classes may not be encouraged to breastfeed nor have the support. One of the conversations I analyzed spoke candidly about working mothers being supported by their employers if they chose to breastfeed. Is there a place offered for mothers to express milk? Workplaces should put policy in place that allows an easier transition to mothers who leave their infant and come back to the workplace. For example, why not offer breaks to breastfeed or express milk? Possible on-site childcare could be an option, as well as lactation support and policy/procedures protecting breastfeeding mothers from harassment. There are roughly 70% of mothers in the United States who work full-time who have children younger than the age of 3. This is a central reason why mothers leave their infant in the hands of daycares, nannies, or family members after six weeks to three months. They are no longer able to breastfeed their children due to low supply or just do not have time during the day to express the milk. Also, some mothers feel that employers/employees are not sensitive to this concept, therefore they feel pressure to stop. It is pertinent that a mother’s workplace be empatheic and all factors are in place so that infants get the breastmilk needed that are beneficial for their future.
Communities also need to act. Why not include educating fathers and grandmothers with programs about breastfeeding? These two family members play a crucial support role in many families. I see the national campaigns promoting breastfeeding nowadays, but this has not always been the case. The social norm of breastfeeding has always been the unconventional route rather than a routine way of feeding an infant. Mother’s should not feel embarrassed to feed their infant in public. These campaigns serve an important role by validating that “you are not alone”. It is a powerful message and it has truly changed many women’s outlook on public breastfeeding, especially with celebrity moms who show their support with social media images breastfeeding their own children. An action that healthcare industries need to take is to ensure that all maternity care practices are in full support of breastfeeding. Even though it is time-consuming and not all healthcare facilities are flexible, there need to be trained individuals to help new mothers with consistent information.
The thick, yellowish fluid that our breasts produce is called colostrum. This fluid is high in protein and low in sugar which helps the infant’s digestive tract develop. The colostrum in our milk also provides large amounts of immunoglobin A, as well as other antibodies. The interesting part is that when a mother is exposed to viruses or bacteria, she starts producing the antibody and that is secreted into the breastmilk which then passes into the infant’s body to help them fight of viruses and microorganisms. Human development is interesting because it almost seems like a miracle that the puzzle pieces just automatically seem to fit together. According to Cordeiro (2014), breastfeeding is also known to help fight off diseases such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), intestinal tissue damage, allergic disease, celiac disease, childhood leukemia, and diabetes. Obesity is also a contender in breastfed versus bottle fed babies. There is more leptin in breastmilk which is a key hormone for regulating appetite and fat storage. The mother is also more apt to lose weight while breastfeeding due to hormonal changes. One of the most essential factors for mothers who breastfeed, which I feel is something all doctors should educate pregnant mothers on, is the reduction of cancer risks and other diseases. If a mother breastfeeds for 12 months during their lifetime, then they have a 28% lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. These are conversations worth having in the early stages of a mother’s pregnancy so they can make an educated decision regarding the baby’s health, as well as their own.