A UCLA study has concluded that mothers who breast-feed their children are more protective of their babies than those mothers who feed their children with a bottle.

The recently published study dubs this the “mama bear effect.” Breast-feeding, the researchers found, increases aggressiveness by  reducing stress in mothers and giving them extra courage to defend themselves and their children. The study also discovered that breast-feeding mothers had lower blood pressure than non-breast-feeding mothers.

The researchers had 18 breast-feeding mothers, 17 formula-feeding mothers and 20 non-mothers complete a series of tasks against a research assistant posing as an extremely rude participant in the study as a way to draw out aggression in the women. The winner of each task was able to press a button that sent a long, loud “sound blast” to the loser – an act of aggressiveness, according to a UCLA press release:

“The researchers found that breast-feeding mothers delivered sound blasts to the rude research assistant that were more than twice as loud and long as those administered by non-mothers and nearly twice as loud and long as those by bottle-feeding mothers. This was true both before and after the breast-feeding mothers nursed their infants.”

Researcher Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook also said the study discovered that breast-feeding has surprising benefits for mothers.

“Breast-feeding has many benefits for a baby’s health and immunity, but it seems to also have a little-known benefit for the mother,” she said. “It may be providing mothers with a buffer against the many stressors new moms face, while at the same time giving mothers an extra burst of courage if they need to defend themselves or their child.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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