Study Says Nursing Moms Are More Aggressive
By Jacqueline Tourville
Getting between a mama bear and her cub is a bad idea. And when a breastfeeding mama detects a threat to her “cub”? Watch out! Compared to bottlefeeding mothers, nursing moms are more likely to behave aggressively in the face of perceived danger, according to a new study published in the September 2011 issue of Psychological Science.
“Nursing mothers [are not] going out and looking for bar fights. But when they have a helpless baby, they’re more likely to defend themselves when the fight comes to them.”
“Nursing mothers [are not] going out and looking for bar fights,” said Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA’s Department of Health Psychology and the study’s lead author, via media release. “But when they have a helpless baby, they’re more likely to defend themselves when the fight comes to them.”
Inspired by behavior changes in lactating monkeys, deer, hamsters, lions, and other animals, Holbrook wondered whether behavior changes could be detected in lactating human mothers. For the study, she recruited three groups of women — 18 nursing mothers, 17 women who were feeding formula to their babies and 20 non-mothers. All three groups of women were told they’d be playing a competitive computer game against another woman in the study. In reality, the “opponent” was actually a research assistant posing as a rude and aggressive study participant. When the women “won” a round of the game, each got to choose how long and loudly they would blast their opponent with an annoying sound–an act of aggressiveness, say researchers.
Who blared the horn the loudest? Breastfeeding moms. After accounting for other differences, researchers found that breastfeeding mothers delivered sound blasts to the rude opponent that were more than twice as loud and long as those administered by non-mothers and nearly twice as loud and long as those by bottle-feeding moms.
Trust Your Instincts
What’s the connection? When breastfeeding women behaved aggressively, researchers noted, they tended to have lower blood pressure readings than other women. Holbrook speculates that breastfeeding somehow dampens the body’s typical stress response to fear, giving women the extra courage they need to defend themselves.
And being more aggressive may not be a bad thing. According to Holbrook, it could be a secret ingredient in helping new moms not feel so stressed out. “Breastfeeding has many benefits for a baby’s health and immunity, but it seems to also have a little-known benefit for the mother. It may be providing…a buffer against the many stressors new moms face.”