Research on the psychological aspects of breastfeeding has tended to focus on one of two issues: (i) the factors that determine parental choice of infant feeding method, or (ii) the consequences of breastfeeding for the child's psychological development. This chapter will summarize the conclusions that can be drawn from research on these two issues.
Parental attitudes to and social and professional support for breastfeeding
Although the last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed an increase in the number of mothers who initiated breastfeeding, as compared with the steady decline seen during the earlier decades of the century, most mothers wean before the recommended age of six months postpartum because of perceived difficulties in breastfeeding (see Dennis, 2002). An illustrative example comes from research by Heath et al. (2002): although 88% of a self-selected sample of New Zealand mothers participating in this study initiated breastfeeding, only 42% were exclusively breastfeeding at three months.
In industrialized countries there are clear demographic differences between women who do and who do not breastfeed (see Dennis, 2002). Women least likely to breastfeed tend to be younger, to have lower incomes, to be from an ethnic minority, to receive less support for breastfeeding, to be employed full-time and to have more negative attitudes to breastfeeding and less confidence in their ability to breastfeed. Two sets of findings are especially noteworthy.