Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Breastfeeding can impact on attachment, therefore impact in Family Court?

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has carried out a detailed study of breastfeeding, and the differences for children who are breast or non-breast fed.

Here is part of the summary. What interested me was the possible impact on attachment, and how that might intersect or conflict with statutory requirements of the Family Law Act, particularly the relationship between separated fathers and their breastfed children:

The results show that breastfed infants spend more time being held or cuddled and being read or talked to, and less time sleeping, or eating, drinking or being fed other foods. They also cried slightly more, and watched television slightly less than infants who were not being breastfed. Those who breastfed spent more time with their parents, and in particular, almost one additional hour a day alone with their mother compared to non-breastfeeding infants.

... The possibility that cognitive advantages for breastfed children may arise from their distinct patterns of time use and social contexts during the breastfeeding phase is an important area for future research...

Being breastfed during infancy contributes to positive developmental outcomes, as well as to good nutrition and health. Expert guidelines for optimal infant feeding recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2003) and, along with appropriate complementary foods, continue to be breastfed for up to two years and beyond (World Health Assembly, 2001).

While being breastfed during infancy is known to improve developmental outcomes, the pathways by which this occurs remain unclear. Components of breast milk are known to be important to brain development, but an important question remains as to whether the observed developmental advantages of children being breastfed also represent unobserved differences in the early life experiences of infants who were breastfed compared to those who were not. For example, there may be aspects of the breastfeeding mother's behaviour or her interaction with the infant that differ from the non-breastfeeding mother. One possible yet unexplored mechanism is that breastfed infants may spend their time differently to infants who are not breastfed. Time use research provides a potentially useful tool for further investigation of this issue.
A possible link between time use and children's outcomes has a basis in the literature on infant development - for example, attachment theory - which indicates that positive interactions with caregivers have implications for secure attachment and socio-emotional development. Children's development opportunities may therefore be affected by who they are with across the day, and where they are. Further, associations between somewhat older children's time use and their development have been explored, with some relationships apparent, which lead us to question whether such relationships may also be apparent for infants. In addition to exploring the association between breastfeeding and time use, this paper also provides a broader examination of infants' time use, to help understand the possible development opportunities for these infants.

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