Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Crying and Breastfeeding

on March 31, 2014


Babies cry. They cry because it’s the only way they have to let us know that they are unhappy or hurt or scared or lonely. Or hungry, of course, but crying is considered a late sign of hunger – usually the baby gives other indications first, such as sucking on his hands or fingers, searching for the breast if he’s being held, or breathing quickly and moving around restlessly if he’s not.

Responding promptly and lovingly to a baby’s cry is an important part of helping that baby develop trust, a sense of security, and a strong attachment to his parents. Researchers at Yale University did a study to see if ‘how a baby was fed’ made a difference to his mother’s response to his cries. The abstract of the study is linked here.




The researchers used an MRI scan to record what was happening in the brains of both breastfeeding mothers and formula feeding mothers at ages two to four weeks, when they listened to their own babies crying.

The brains of breastfeeding mothers showed greater activation in certain areas that have been linked in other research to empathy, nurturing and bonding behaviour.

The researchers followed up when the babies were three to four months of age, and found that mothers who had more response in these areas of the brain in the first month were more likely to be rated as sensitive to their babies at this later time.

What makes the difference? Is it the hormones of breastfeeding, the frequent skin-to-skin contact with the baby? We don’t know, but I think it’s fascinating to know that breastfeeding actually changes the way your brain responds to your baby’s crying, and helps you respond in a more nurturing way. *

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By Teresa Pitman, La Leche League Leader, Co-Author of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th edition), Author of the new Preparing to Breastfeed: A Pregnant Woman’s Guide , and co-author of soon-to-be released Sweet Sleep: Naptime and Nighttime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family 


If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking  or  Internationally







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