Nursing mothers are more receptive to joy

Perception of emotions changes with frequent breastfeeding

Breastfeeding with breast milk is not only good for the child, it also affects the mother's feelings. © Petr Kratochvil / Public domain
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Breastfeeding makes you happy - and not only that: Nursing mothers also recognize other emotions such as happiness and joy faster. Anger, on the other hand, triggers delayed reactions, as an experiment shows. Responsible is probably the "cuddly hormone" oxytocin, which is increasingly secreted when breastfeeding, as the researchers report in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Breastfeeding brings great benefits to a newborn child: Breast milk protects against bacteria and viruses and strengthens the immune system. In addition, breastfeeding promotes the social bond between mother and child and thus supports its development, which can even affect up to school and later career.

Less stress and fears

However, breastfeeding has great benefits not only for the child but also for the mother: "Mothers report less stress, fewer negative moods or fears in this context, " explains Kathleen Krol from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Previous studies have already shown positive effects on heart rate and blood pressure, as well as an increased release of the "cuddle hormone" oxytocin. So far, however, was unexplored, whether and how breastfeeding affects the perception of emotions on the part of the mothers.

Krol and her colleagues have therefore studied in more detail the effect of breastfeeding on emotional perception. More than sixty mothers of children between the ages of five and seven months participated in the study. Using a special questionnaire, the scientists first recorded the frequency and proportion of daily nursing meals. They also collected information about the mother's temperament, affection, and empathy, as well as her breastfeeding behavior.

Sensitive to positive emotional signals

The researchers then showed the mothers faces on a screen consisting of neutral color photographs of twelve actors who transformed from a neutral into an expression of either anger, joy, fear, sadness or disgust within three seconds. As soon as the mothers recognized the emotion on the face of the person on the screen, they should press a corresponding key on the keyboard. In the process, the scientists study how quickly and precisely the mothers recognized the different emotions. display

The results showed that the mothers, who more often breastfed their child, responded more quickly to cheerful facial expressions. Responses to negative emotions, especially olfaction, slowed down during frequent nursing meals. This suggests that breastfeeding, on the one hand, makes one more sensitive to positive emotional signals, but on the other reduces sensitivity to aggressive signals from rger.

"It can be assumed that the hormone oxytocin plays a special role here, " says Krol. In previous studies, the hormone had similar effects on emotional processing as breastfeeding. "Breastfeeding is a highly complex and dynamic process, " explains Krol, "and more systematic research is needed to understand what exactly causes the effects documented in the study." In further studies, the researchers are now looking for hormonal, genetic, and human factors and brain-physiological variables that could explain these effects. (Scientific Reports, 2014; doi: 10.1038 / srep07006)

(Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, 13.11.2014 - AKR)