Associations Between Breastfeeding, Maternal Emotional Availability, and Infant–Mother Attachment: The Role of Coparenting

Christine Youngwon Kim, Nicole P. Smith, Douglas M. Teti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Breastfeeding is a parenting practice that combines close intimate contact with the opportunity to be sensitive and responsive to the infant, and may have direct and indirect relations with infant attachment. However, researchers have produced inconsistent findings, suggesting there may be other mechanisms involved. Coparenting may play a significant role, as it has been consistently associated with mother–infant relationships. Research aims: The aims of this study were to examine: (1) whether breastfeeding would be directly associated with infant–mother attachment; (2) whether this association was also indirect, through mothers’ quality of caregiving; and (3) whether partners’ coparenting support moderates breastfeeding’s indirect association with attachment Methods: This was a prospective, longitudinal study that drew data from a larger NIH-funded study on sleep and family relationships (R01HD052809). Mothers reported on their feeding practices and coparenting relationships. Independent observations were used to assess mothers’ emotional availability toward infants. A separate team of observers assessed infant–mother attachment. Results: Exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months, and longer duration of any breastfeeding across the 1st year, were directly associated with more secure infant–mother attachment. These associations were also indirect, through maternal emotional availability. Coparenting was a significant moderator, such that the influence of longer breastfeeding duration on improved emotional availability, and, in turn, on more secure attachment, was significant only for mothers who perceived coparenting quality to be low. Conclusion: Findings highlighted the importance of breastfeeding on both the quality of mothering and infant attachment, but also emphasized that coparenting support may be particularly important for mothers who are unable to breastfeed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Human Lactation
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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