The breastfeeding-bonding connection is one of those unique experiences between a mother and her baby. While most of us have experienced the love of a parent or the passion for a partner, we are generally unprepared for the overwhelming love we have for our babies. It’s this love that is the key to the survival of the human species. Our immature young are nurtured for a long time and with great vigilance simply because we fall illogically, utterly in love.
The brain is masterfully designed to release the love hormone oxytocin exactly when we need it – when we are having sex, right before birth (whilst in labour) and when breastfeeding. It is in these moments that our physiology takes over and gives us that love-drunk feeling.
Why is oxytocin so vital in bonding?
In order to nurture a securely attached, happy human life that is capable of loving another, you must establish a secure attachment. With the rush of oxytocin at birth, you may have felt immediately connected to your little one. However, this is not always true. Luckily, what we know about bonding, is that it’s a lengthy process. Care and bonding over the first few years are as important as that moment of birth.
When you stroke, groom and look at your baby, this nurturing care results in release of oxytocin in both of you. This enhances trust, love and affection, and reduces fear. This literally wires your baby’s brain for social engagement, interactions and joint attention – a precursor to language.
The bonding benefits of breastfeeding
Oxytocin is ultimately best released whilst breastfeeding. The let-down reflex, as the milk is delivered, is associated with a rush of oxytocin. When your baby cries and you prepare to breastfeed, you already start to release this magic hormone, giving you and your baby a daily dose of feel-good hormones.
Under the influence of oxytocin, you feel calmer and your baby soothes. In addition, your sense of smell heightens, allowing you to imprint on your baby’s smell. You will also want to touch, stroke and look at your baby more while breastfeeding, thanks to oxytocin. All of these have the knock-on effect of increasing your baby’s attachment.
The breastfeeding-bonding cycle
BABY CRIES → OXYTOCIN IS RELEASED IN YOU → YOUR BABY BREASTFEEDS → MORE OXYTOCIN IS RELEASED IN YOU → YOU STROKE AND NURTURE YOUR BABY MORE → YOUR BABY RELEASES OXYTOCIN → YOUR BABY CALMS → YOU FEEL MORE SUCCESSFUL AS A MOM → YOU TUNE IN MORE… and so the cycle continues.
Nature is magic and never more so in the miracle of mothering. It is very important to recognise the role breastfeeding plays in the release of oxytocin. For a lot of moms, breastfeeding is challenging and fraught with obstacles. Therefore, it is equally important to acknowledge that love and caring for a baby in a multitude of ways is more important than the method of feeding. Connect, touch and nurture your baby and that bonding connection will be secured. Read more about the sensory experience of feeding.
When breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally (Podcast)
Listen now for Meg’s tips on addressing Cass’s breastfeeding challenges with busy little Max. Meg talks about her own struggles with breastfeeding her three children and the importance of flexibility and the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect, permanent routine when it comes to babies.
If you need expert advice on breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby, subscribe to Parent Sense. It’s the all-in-one baby app developed by Meg Faure to help you approach feeding, sleeping, development and health with confidence. Download it now and start tracking your baby’s feeds for FREE or unlock all the benefits of parenting with sense with an affordable, flexible subscription package.