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PLoS One. 2014 Feb 12;9(2):e83893. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083893. eCollection 2014.

Breastfeeding duration and early parenting behaviour: the importance of an infant-led, responsive style.

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Department of Public Health and Policy Studies, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom.
Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom.



Popular parenting literature promotes different approaches to caring for infants, based around variations in the use of parent-led routines and promoting infant independence. However, there is little empirical evidence of how these early behaviours affect wider parenting choices such as infant feeding. Breastfeeding often requires an infant-led approach, feeding on demand and allowing the infant to regulate intake whilst conversely formula feeding is open to greater caregiver manipulation. The infant-led style associated with breastfeeding may therefore be at odds with philosophies that encourage strict use of routine and independence. The aim of this study was to explore the association between early parenting behaviours and breastfeeding duration.


Five hundred and eight mothers with an infant aged 0-12 months completed a questionnaire examining breastfeeding duration, attitudes and behaviours surrounding early parenting (e.g. anxiety, use of routine, involvement, nurturance and discipline). Participants were attendees at baby groups or participants of online parenting forums based in the UK.


Formula use at birth or short breastfeeding duration were significantly associated with low levels of nurturance, high levels of reported anxiety and increased maternal use of Parent-led routines. Conversely an infant-led approach characterised by responding to and following infant cues was associated with longer breastfeeding duration.


Maternal desire to follow a structured parenting approach which purports use of Parent-led routines and early demands for infant independence may have a negative impact upon breastfeeding duration. Increased maternal anxiety may further influence this relationship. The findings have important implications for Health Professionals supporting new mothers during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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