Psychological Benefits of Breastfeeding

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 12, 2023
2 min read

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is a natural and beautiful process that helps create intimacy and bonding between mom and baby. The connection and bonding felt during this nurturing embrace can provide beneficial psychological effects, like lowering stress and increasing feelings of calm.

Besides the experience of emotional bonding, there are numerous other psychological benefits to breastfeeding.

Stress. Inflammation is part of the body’s stress response, and when inflammation levels are high, people are more likely to experience depression. Breastfeeding can help lower the mother’s inflammation levels. Lowered inflammation can also lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Sleep. One of the biggest, and maybe most surprising, psychological benefits of breastfeeding is better sleep. In fact, mothers who only breastfeed may find that they fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer, and sleep more deeply.

Hormone boost. When you breastfeed, your body makes the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin produces a peaceful, nurturing feeling that allows you to relax and focus on your child. It also promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between you and your baby.

Increased calmness. Breastfeeding can also support your baby’s physical and emotional wellness. Breastfed babies cry less overall and have fewer incidences of childhood illness.

Physical and emotional bonding. Breastfeeding creates a bonding experience between mother and child because it promotes skin-to-skin contact, more holding and stroking. Many experts say that affectionate bonding during the first years of life helps lessen social and behavioral problems in both children and adults.

Breastfeeding can also help mothers learn to read their infant’s cues and can help babies learn to trust caregivers. This helps shape a baby’s early behavior.

Breastfeeding can give the mother peace of mind that her breast milk is helping keep her baby happy and healthy. For instance, when babies breastfeed, they have:

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Fewer diarrhea, constipation, and digestive issues
  • Lower levels of acid reflux disease and stomach inflammation
  • Lower risk of preterm necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious intestinal disease in babies that happens when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or inflamed)
  • Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, whooping cough, and other respiratory virus infections
  • Fewer ear infections, which can damage hearing
  • Fewer cases of bacterial meningitis (an inflammation of brain and spinal cord membranes, typically caused by an infection)
  • Better vision and less risk of developing blindness
  • Lower rates of infant death
  • Lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome
  • Less illness overall, with less likelihood of hospitalization

In addition to providing physical benefits through critical nutrients, research shows that breastfeeding also has a deep and lasting effect on thought and understanding, behavior, and mental health in children. For instance, babies who are breastfed are likely to have:

  • Stronger critical thinking and reasoning skills 
  • Better memory
  • Early language ability
  • Enhanced motor skills ‌