The Road To Maternal Responsiveness Is Paved With Good Intentions: An Investigation into the Relative Effects of Breastfeeding Intention and Practice on Observed Maternal Responsiveness after Birth.
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
OBJECTIVE The aim of this study was to investigate the differential effects of breastfeeding practice and having an intention to breastfeed (during pregnancy) on a mother’s maternal responsiveness to her infant after birth. METHODS Using longitudinal data from a subsample of 962 mother-infant dyads from a UK cohort study (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children), we investigated the influence of intention to breastfeed at 3 months pregnancy and breastfeeding practice and on mother-infant interactions at 12 months after birth. Breastfeeding intent and practice were assessed by questionnaires administered to the mothers. Intention to breastfeed in the first 3 months postpartum was measured at 32 weeks into the pregnancy, while breastfeeding practice (over first 12 months postpartum) was measured retrospectively at 15 months post partum. RESULTS Using logistic regression analyses, we found that intending to breastfeed at 32 weeks gestation significantly predicted maternal responsiveness, namely that an intention to breastfeed increased the odds of positive maternal responsiveness, independently of breastfeeding practice. However, we found the practice of breastfeeding was not an independent predictor of positive maternal responsiveness once intention to breastfeed was accounted for. Using a life course epidemiology approach we further demonstrated that maternal responsiveness is most positive when both the intention to breastfeed and breastfeeding practice are present. CONCLUSIONS To our knowledge this is the first study to report that having the intention to breastfeed an infant is more strongly associated with positive maternal responsiveness than the act of breastfeeding itself. This may suggest that more responsive mothers choose to breastfeed rather than breastfeeding practice directly causing enhanced responsiveness. Further research will be needed to understand the nature of this intention and its relationships with maternal responsiveness. However, the results may also highlight the potential importance of parenting intentions/ preparations during pregnancy for a mothers developing abilities to be responsive to her infant after birth.