Strathearn, L. et al. (2009)
Does Breastfeeding Protect Against Substantiated Child Abuse and Neglect? A 15 year cohort study
Pediatrics 123: 483-493

  • Physical contact between a mother and a young child can provide some protection against the breakdown of the mother-child relationship that is necessary if a mother is to maltreat her child. Breastfeeding, which stimulates the production of the “cuddle hormone”, oxytocin, and improves mood, is thought to be particularly valuable.
  • The researchers recorded the duration of both exclusive and partial breastfeeding in a large sample of mothers and their babies recruited in Australia between 1981 and 1984. 
  • Childhood neglect or abuse was recorded in about 4% of participating families, with about 60% of those cases including at least one incident of maltreatment by the mother
  • Infants who were not breastfed were more than four times as likely to be maltreated than those who were breastfed for four months or more; very young and poorly educated mothers, and those who abuse alcohol, were also more likely to maltreat their children.
  • These results suggest that long-term breastfeeding can protect infants against neglect and abuse, and that policies that encourage breast feeding, such as increasing maternity leave, may help decrease maternal maltreatment.