Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 579–588 | Cite as

Breastfeeding, Parenting, and Infant Attachment Behaviors

  • Benjamin G. GibbsEmail author
  • Renata Forste
  • Emily Lybbert


Objectives Infants and toddlers need secure attachments in order to develop the social competence required to successfully navigate later peer and adult relationships. Breastfeeding is a parenting factor that has been associated with child emotional development—specifically the attachment between children and their mothers. Yet, this link may simply be the result of other parenting behaviors that are associated with breastfeeding. Thus, our objective is to examine whether the link between infant attachment behaviors and breastfeeding endures when accounting for a broad array of in-depth measures of parenting. Methods We use the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of children from 9 months to 2 years of age collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. Using Ordinary Least Squares regression, data analyses examine the association between the Toddler Attachment Sort-45 (TAS-45) measures of toddler-parent attachment (infant attachment security and temperamental dependency) and breastfeeding practices. We also examine individual items of the TAS-45 to isolate specific attachment behaviors that have the strongest associations with breastfeeding. Results We find an enduring link between children who are predominantly breastfed for six or more months and infant attachment security. However, we find no evidence that breastfeeding is linked to a child’s temperamental dependency. Of the nine items used to examine infant attachment behaviors, we find that breastfed children are rated as having slightly higher scores on two measures (“warm and cuddly,” “cooperative”) and lower scores on one measure (“demanding/angry”). Conclusions for Practice Breastfeeding has an important link to the child’s use of their caregiver as a secure base for exploration and a place of comfort when distressed (infant attachment security). Yet, breastfeeding does not appear to reduce a child’s temperamental dependency or level of clinginess as measured by how demanding, fussy or distressed the child becomes when separated.


Breastfeeding Infant security attachment Temperamental dependency Cognitive development Mother-infant bond 



Toddler Attachment Sort-45


Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort


National Center for Education Statistics


Ordinary Least Squares


Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment


Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale



No external funding was secured for this study

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin G. Gibbs
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Renata Forste
    • 1
  • Emily Lybbert
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, 2023 JFSBBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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