This stuff is miraculous: Study shows breastfeeding can help newborns affected by prenatal violence
07/30/2019 // Cassie B. // Views

The wonders of breastfeeding never cease to amaze, and while it’s not hard to see how this highly nutritious food can give babies the nutrients they need to grow, some of its effects are less obvious – but no less miraculous.

A new study carried out by Assistant Professor of Psychology Laura Miller-Graff of the Willian J. Shaw Center for Children and Families shows that breastfeeding can protect babies from the negative outcomes associated with intimate partner violence.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that one out of every four women in the U.S. experiences intimate partner violence at some point in her lifetime. Although that risk rises when women are pregnant, few studies have looked into the effects of this violence during pregnancy.

The study involved interviews with low-income women between the ages of 18 and 39 through all three trimesters of pregnancy. The diverse group was composed of Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American, biracial and multi-racial women, and the studies were made available in English as well as Spanish.

Women were asked to complete the surveys during pregnancy and again at postnatal follow-up appointments six months and four months after birth. The researchers took measures to help the participating women avoid having to disclose their participation to a violent partner and provided them with access to nonprofits that can help them.

The researchers discovered that breastfeeding during the first six weeks of life is protective, essentially negating the risk of violence experienced during pregnancy having a negative impact on their infant’s temperament. Temperament issues like an inability to self-soothe and fussiness can Indicate adjustment issues in early childhood.


Researchers believe that protective potential of breastfeeding is a very promising area because support and education for breastfeeding are already a big part of many of the health systems that women engage with during pregnancy.

Studies by the same researchers found that although romantic partner violence victims are no less likely to start breastfeeding, they’re significantly more likely to stop doing so in the first few weeks of their baby’s life. Therefore, providing such women with specialized breastfeeding support could ultimately have a very big positive effect on their baby.

A different study carried out by Norwegian researchers found that mothers who had been victims of domestic violence within the past year were 40 percent more likely to stop breastfeeding in the baby’s first four months of life. These findings were based on data pertaining to more than 53,000 women in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.

What are these babies missing out on?

It’s unfortunate that the babies who may well need breast milk the most – those whose mothers were victims of violence during pregnancy – have such a higher likelihood of not being breastfed. In addition to the protection it provides against negative impacts on their temperament, there are also some important vitamins and antibodies they are missing out on.

Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce a baby’s risk of infections, vomiting, diarrhea, obesity, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as cardiovascular disease later in life. It also lowers the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. In addition, it can help to build a strong bond emotionally between a mother and child, which benefits all parties involved.

Scientists are still working on uncovering all of the benefits that breast milk can provide, and its protective effects when it comes to emotional distress could have big implications for all mothers and babies, not just those who are exposed to violence during pregnancy. From beneficial bacteria and proteins to the chance to form lasting bonds, breast milk really is the best choice for new babies whenever possible.

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