The role of breastfeeding in bonding
Breastfeeding is designed by nature to ensure maternal-infant interaction and closeness. If done without schedules or other restrictions, breastfeeding guarantees that you and your baby will be in close physical contact 8 to 18 times in every 24 hours. In fact, nursing mothers tend to be with their infants altogether more than other mothers. In the first 10 days after birth, nursing mothers hold their babies more than bottle-feeding mothers, even when they are not nursing. They rock their babies more, speak to their babies more, and are more likely to sleep with their babies.
In Western society, many women never hold a newborn until they give birth to their own, yet this frequent skin-to-skin contact and interaction soon make up for even a complete lack of familiarity with babies. The mother who immerses herself in her newborn, breastfeeding frequently and without restrictions, quickly learns to read her baby's cues and to trust her own instincts. She extends the gentle give-and-take, the empathy, and the commitment of breastfeeding into the rest of her mothering. Nursing her baby provides her with a blueprint for sensitive parenting in the years to come.
Advantages of breastmilk
Nursing couples need each other physically and emotionally. The baby, of course, has a physical need for milk. As scientists have amply documented, breast milk benefits every system in a baby's body. Breastfeeding offers protection against allergies and respiratory infections, and perhaps obesity. Breastfeeding improves vision and oral development; breastfed babies have fewer ear infections; breast milk is better for the cardiovascular system and kidneys; and babies' intestinal immunity is enhanced by human milk. Juvenile diabetes is less common among breastfed than bottle-fed babies. Breastfeeding enhances a baby's cognitive development, partially because it allows the baby more control in feeding -- the ability to control one's own actions appears to be essential in human development. The composition of breast milk, too, appears to support optimal brain development. Indeed, recent studies have found that children fed mother's milk as babies have higher IQs, on average, than those fed formula.
And, of course, a baby's emotional need for love and reassurance is just as strong as her physical need for milk. Whereas most formula-fed babies are soon taught to hold their own bottles, the breastfed baby is always held by her mother for feedings. A breastfed baby enjoys not only the comfort of the warm breast, but caressing, rocking, and eye contact before, during, and after feedings. With all her senses, she drinks in her mother's love.
Advantages for mom
The mother, in turn, has a physical need for the baby to take the milk from her breasts. The let-down of milk is relieving, satisfying, like a drink of water when one is thirsty. When your newborn begins to suck at your breast, or even just to mouth your nipple, the hormone oxytocin is released in your body, hastening the contraction of your uterus and inducing the let-down or milk-ejection reflex, which begins your milk flow. Called "the love hormone" because it is also produced during sexual intercourse and birth, oxytocin brings on a sudden feeling of contentment and pleasure as you breastfeed your baby. In this way you and your baby become a happy team at feedings, each amply rewarded by the other for her efforts.