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Mother–Infant Physical Contact Predicts Responsive Feeding among U.S. Breastfeeding Mothers


Responsive feeding-initiating feeding in response to early hunger cues-supports the physiology of lactation and the development of infant feeding abilities, yet there is a dearth of research examining what predicts responsive feeding. In non-Western proximal care cultures, there is an association between responsive feeding and mother⁻infant physical contact, but this has not been investigated within Western populations. In two studies, we tested whether mother⁻infant physical contact predicted feeding in response to early hunger cues versus feeding on a schedule or after signs of distress among U.S. breastfeeding mothers. With an online questionnaire in Study 1 (n = 626), physical contact with infants (via co-sleeping and babywearing) predicted increased likelihood of self-reported responsive feeding. Mothers who reported responsive feeding were more likely to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, breastfeed more frequently throughout the day, and had a longer planned breastfeeding duration than mothers who reported feeding on a schedule or after signs of infant distress. In Study 2 (n = 96), a three-day feeding log showed that mother⁻infant physical contact predicted feeding in response to early hunger cues but mother⁻infant proximity (without physical contact) did not. In sum, our results demonstrate that physical contact with infants may shape breastfeeding behavior among U.S. mothers, highlighting a connection between social interaction and infant nutrition that warrants further investigation.

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