Breastfeeding, Parenting, and Infant Attachment Behaviors


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


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.

Original Publication Citation

Gibbs, Benjamin G., Renata Forste, & Emily Lybbert.(Published online ahead of print 31 January 2018). “Breastfeeding, Parenting,and Infant Attachment Behaviors.” Maternal and Child Health Journal.https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-018-2427-z

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Maternal and Child Health Journal




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor