Breastfeeding Moms Take No Prisoners

Nursing mothers more protective when attacked

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) National Geographic fans are probably familiar with footage showing a mama bear's reaction to people who accidentally get close to their cubs. Those mamas attack without holding anything back.

A recent study indicates that women who are breastfeeding act more aggressively than non-breastfeeding moms or childless women when they perceive protection is needed for themselves and their child.

"Nursing moms will fiercely protect their infant."

Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the UCLA Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author reports that breastfeeding has many known benefits for a baby’s healthy development and establishing immunities, but it seems to also have a bonus for the mother: Aggression.

This aggression may be giving mothers an extra layer of protection against the many stresses new mothers are forced to deal with as well as an extra surge of boldness that may be needed to protect their child and themselves.

Hahn-Holbrook refined her viewpoint by adding she isn't insinuating that breastfeeding moms are out looking for a fight, but they will defend themselves more forcefully if someone feels threatening to them or their child. In mammals, this reaction is called "lactation aggression."

For the study, researchers recruited three groups of women —20 women who were childless, 18 breastfeeding mothers and 17 women who were using formula to feed their babies. One at a time, every woman was asked to compete in a series of reaction tasks against the same research assistant who was obnoxious and inappropriate against her opponents. While this was going on, the infants were placed in a room next door.

Whoever of the two competitors won the round were asked to deliver a long, loud blast to the loser. The study's findings indicate the breastfeeding moms were the most aggressive when sounding the victory button aimed at their rude opponent.

Theirs were more than twice as long and loud as the non-mothers and almost twice the intensity of the mothers who were bottle-feeding their offspring.

Blood pressures from all the women were taken and breastfeeding mother's had an interesting calm about them during the anger horn blowing-their systolic blood pressure was around 10 points lower than the formula feeding users and 12 points lower than the childless women.

This study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 4, 2011
Last Updated:
September 5, 2011