Colleen Sharkey | April 1, 2019
How infants adjust in their first months of life depends on many factors, including what their mothers experienced while they are in utero. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime and that risk increases during pregnancy, but surprisingly few longitudinal studies have been conducted on the effects of IPV during pregnancy.
William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Assistant Professor of Psychology and Peace Studies Laura Miller-Graff led a novel study examining the role of breastfeeding as a potential protective factor against detrimental outcomes for infants associated with IPV during pregnancy. Miller-Graff and her co-author, graduate student Caroline Scheid, found that breastfeeding through the first six weeks of life acts as a protective factor, effectively negating the risk of IPV the mother experienced during pregnancy on early infant difficult temperament. Poor temperament — from fussiness to being unable to soothe themselves — can be an indicator of adjustment issues in early childhood.
“The current findings suggest continued breastfeeding actually stand to substantially reduce IPV’s intergenerational conferral of risk on infant adjustment,” the authors write in the study that was published in the journal Development and Psychopathology. “The protective role of breastfeeding is a particularly promising area of intervention given that breastfeeding education and support is already embedded in numerous health systems women might engage with during their pregnancy.”
Earlier research conducted by Miller-Graff and other colleagues showed that, while victims of IPV are not less likely to initiate breastfeeding, they are far more likely to cease the practice in the first few weeks after birth (add link). “Together these studies suggest that providing IPV-exposed women with more targeted breastfeeding support may have important public health implications,” Miller-Graff notes.
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