What is Better for Infant Psychological Development: Breast or Bottle?
The heated debate around the dilemma of whether to bottle-feed or breastfeed infants continues for almost a century. Concerned parents and specialists in baby development keep on raising a number of serious questions connected with infant feeding. One of those questions is about the effect that the type of feeding has on cognitive and psychological development of a baby. The opponents of breastfeeding support their position by providing evidence that for mothers who feel inconvenience during breastfeeding, a better option is to use bottles. This is explained by the fact that babies are able to sense when their mothers experience negative emotions. As a result of being affected by their mothers’ negative feelings, newborn children may develop serious mental problems. The proponents of breast feeding, in turn, have a huge arsenal of evidences supporting their position. Particularly, they provide data that show how mothers may help their babies grow into self-sufficient and sustainable people by means of establishing a close connection during breast feeding. When a woman breastfeeds her baby, she develops a special bond of union with her child. This special connection helps a child feel loved and cherished. Such positive emotions become the foundation of the formation of important features of personality including self-confidence, dignity, and assertiveness.
The importance of finding the right answer in the bottle vs. the breast debate is immense since numerous well-respected specialists in cognitive development of infants state that mother-infant bond during breastfeeding is vital for a successful personality development. In pursuit for corresponding to the beauty standards, many women decide to deprive their children of an opportunity to have the feeding that Mother Nature has provided for them. However, the question of whether such decision is wise and well-promising is very serious.
The issue of whether bottle-feeding can replace breastfeeding safely for the personal development of a child became a focus of numerous research studies over the past few decades (Luecken & Gallo, 2008). The urgency of this issue results from the ongoing changes in modern society. Women feel the pressure of a growing insistence on high standards of beauty from men. Since many men tend to leave their parturient wives after a few months from childbirth for the reason of their worsened appearance, women are desperate in their efforts to maintain perfect appearance including the beauty of the body. For that reason, new mothers decide to avoid breastfeeding. In addition, some of them make the above-mentioned decision being motivated by their desire to return to work as soon as possible. However, a growing number of specialists studying the connection of mother-infant interaction and behavioral problems in adulthood admit that the decision to make a sacrifice to a husband or work may lead to the sad consequences in the future since the most important thing for any woman is the well-being of her child (Lavelli & Fogel, 2002).
Views of the Parties
The opponents of replacing breastfeeding with bottle-feeding rationalize their position by stating that the absence of proper maternal care in the form of breastfeeding leads to the lasting activation of stress systems in infants, which continue during the whole life (Orlansky, 1949). In addition, the advocates of breastfeeding state that mother-infant interaction during breastfeeding activates special zones in the brain of a baby that are responsible for the development of stress-resistant mechanisms. For instance, according to Peus, Redelin, Scharnholz, Paul, Gass, Deuschle and Deuschle (2012), “caring mother-pup interactions are associated with attenuated stress responses and increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the adult offspring” (p.189). Moreover, the proponents of breastfeeding argue that the failure to breastfeed may have profound negative effects on neurobiological development including the development of intelligence and mental health (Bornstein, 1992). A number of research studies identified that in human infants, the absence of the breastfeeding period may lead to the development of such mental disorders as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, HPA activation, and decreased hippocampal (Peus et al., 2012).
The proponents of bottle-feeding have two major lines of evidence. First, they make an emphasis on the fact that babies are subjected to considerable harm to their cognitive development in case their mothers feel uncomfortable during the breastfeeding process (Luecken & Gallo, 2008). Secondly, they demonstrate the results of their research studies among the babies whose mothers did not have an opportunity to breastfeed them due to physical problems, and explain that there are no facts supporting the position that bottle-feeding results in any type of cognitive development problems (Luecken & Gallo, 2008). Besides, modern feeding formula tends to be as close to human milk as possible. As a result, infants get all the vitamins and minerals needed for normal development of the nervous system (Luecken & Gallo, 2008). Still, the proponents of breastfeeding make a special emphasis on the bond between the mother and her baby that appears during breastfeeding. However, the advocates of bottle-feeding interpose an objection to this position by making an explanation that the really important variable for a successful cognitive and psychological development is the loving care and tender attitude that a mother has to her child (Luecken & Gallo, 2008). According to these specialists, the wholesome feeling of security in mother’s loving embrace is the most important aspect for optimal development of an infant (Luecken & Gallo, 2008).
The Evaluation of the Two Positions on Breastfeeding vs. Bottle-Feeding
Studying the arguments of both parties, one may come to the conclusion that each side has its strong arguments. However, the position of the advocates of breastfeeding is stronger, which can be explained by the fact that they offer more evidences based on the results of actual research studies to support their point of view. Particularly, the proponents of breastfeeding have submitted the results of their research in the area of the effects of breastfeeding on the nervous system development. In addition, those researches have supported their viewpoint by providing data which show the connection between the failure to breastfeed babies and the development of depressive mental conditions in them in adulthood.
All in all, the review of the literature on the connection between cognitive development of an infant and breastfeeding or bottle-feeding suggests contradictory conclusions. The analysis of the research data provided by both parties indicates that the real variable that is critically important for normal development of a child is a strong bond of union between a mother and child. Both mother and her baby should be in a comfort zone during such an important process as feeding. In case a mother has negative feelings regarding her body or her personality might somehow be affected due to the necessity to breastfeed, the baby may develop serious mental problems including the latent sense of rejection or the syndrome of an unwelcomed person. These conditions, in turn, may result in the development of depressive disorders in adulthood.
Evaluating the findings of this research, it is important to note that they are partial. This situation is an outcome of the lack of measured data in human infants. Specialists explain such state of affairs by the fact that it is impossible to establish a connection between mental disorders and the circumstances leading to them. Since no one knows for sure why an individual becomes underdeveloped cognitively or mentally, the possibility of obtaining realistic data is minimized.
My personal observations suggest a conclusion that the findings made during this research study are realistic. A number of my acquaintances breastfed their babies while some of them resorted to the use of bottle-feeding. Now that I have an opportunity to associate with the offspring of the two groups, I can identify no seeming difference in psychological development. Still, I find one of the results of my observation practices very important. Notably, those mothers who demonstrated egoistic inclinations in the relationships with their children, including the decision to fail to breastfeed them because it may harm their appearance, have complicated relations with their offspring. In addition, such mothers’ children tend to have a negative outlook on life and are often subjected to the attacks of a bad mood and even depression.
In conclusion, critically evaluating the approach of psychologists exploring breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding dilemma, it is relevant to note that they failed to take into consideration some important details during their research studies. They only took one variable of whether a woman breastfeeds or bottle-feeds her baby into account. However, they did not consider the motivation behind the actions of a woman as well as her level of relationship with the infant. In the future, the psychological studies in the area of feeding babies should be made from a multidimensional perspective. This means that researchers will have to take more details into consideration in exploring the feeding process and its outcomes for an infant development. Despite the fact that there exist some inaccuracies in the current research, the scientists have made the most important finding which is the fact that a woman’s mood and attitude to her child directly affect his or her psychological development.