Mothers are more sensitive to infant cues after breastfeeding compared to bottle-feeding with human milk

Horm Behav. 2021 Nov:136:105047. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2021.105047. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


The belief that breastfeeding promotes maternal bonding is widely held by both the public and professional health organizations. Yet to our knowledge, all research examining the link between breastfeeding and maternal behavior in humans has been correlational, limiting our ability to draw causal conclusions. In many mammals, the hormone prolactin, which is central to milk production, rises in response to each breastfeeding session and promotes maternal sensitivity, yet there is a dearth of research in human mothers. To fill these research gaps, we randomly assigned 28 breastfeeding mothers to either breastfeed in the lab or feed their infants previously expressed breastmilk in a bottle before participating in a video-recorded free play session with their infant. Plasma prolactin was measured 40 min after the start of the feeding session and video observations were coded for maternal sensitivity. We found that women randomly assigned to breastfeed were more sensitive to infant cues than women randomly assigned to bottle-feed. Prolactin levels did not differ between feeding groups, although prolactin was positively correlated with maternal sensitivity. Our results suggest that feeding milk directly from the breast (compared to bottle-feeding) increases maternal sensitivity towards infants, at least in the short term.

Keywords: Bottle-feeding; Breastfeeding; Endocrinology; Maternal behavior; Prolactin; Sensitivity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mammals
  • Milk, Human*
  • Mothers
  • Prolactin


  • Prolactin