Child neglect linked to feeding
Reported January 27, 2009
Women who do not breastfeed their infants are nearly four times more likely to neglect and abuse their child, a study of Australian women has found.
The analysis of about 6000 Queensland mothers and their children also discovered that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she is to neglect or hurt her child.
To reach their findings, researchers from the University of Queensland linked data from Australia’s largest longitudinal study tracking mothers and their children with substantiated reports of maltreatment recorded by the state’s child protection authorities.
They found that of the 1421 women who did not breastfeed their children in the group, 102 women – or 7.2 per cent – neglected or abused their child in some way. This compared with 4.8 per cent of the 2584 women who breastfed for less than four months and 1.6 per cent of the 2616 women who breastfed for more than four months.
Maltreatment included neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual assault. Neglect was the most common form identified in the study, but the prevalence of all types increased as the duration of breastfeeding decreased.
Other variables found to increase the likelihood of maltreatment were unmarried status, low education, smoking and binge-drinking during pregnancy and symptoms of prenatal anxiety.
When the researchers adjusted the statistics for 5890 cases to filter out the influence of other factors, they concluded that women who did not breastfeed were 3.8 times more likely to maltreat their child. For mothers who breastfed for less than four months, the risk was about 2.3 times that of women who breastfed for longer than four months.
Lane Strathearn, author of the research due to be published in the journal Pediatrics next month, said the promotion of breastfeeding could be a simple and cost-effective way of strengthening the relationship between mothers and babies to prevent child neglect and abuse.
The deputy director of the Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute in South Australia, Maria Makrides, said that while she had not read the study, people should not interpret the absence of breastfeeding or low rates as a direct cause of neglect and abuse.
Querida David of the Australian Breastfeeding Association said that although the majority of mothers could breastfeed with the right support, it was important not to alienate or ostracise those who did not. “Lots of mothers who don’t breastfeed don’t do it for a reason, and they are still good mothers.”