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Breastfeeding and mother-infant contact appear to have a protective influence on subsequent child abuse and neglect, according to a  study presented in New Orleans [3 November 2003] at the American Academy of Pediatrics' National Conference and Exhibition.

Lane Strathern, MBBS, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, performed a prospective study of 7,695 mothers and newborn infants from a public hospital over a period of 14 years.

Analysis showed that the risk of maternal maltreatment increased with the length of separation but decreased with breastfeeding duration.

Compared with infants breastfed for four or more months, non-breastfed infants were 4.5 times more likely to experience substantiated maltreatment.

Infants separated from their mothers for more than 20 hours per week had an approximately three-fold increase in risk.

Additional predictors of maternal maltreatment included unmarried cohabitation, single parent status, maternal anxiety, socioeconomic factors, and addictive behaviors during pregnancy.

"A lot of people assume that it's the milk that is the key factor in breastfeeding benefits, but that may not be the case. It may be more the actual contingent interactions from day to day, hour to hour throughout the day between the mother and the baby that makes the difference." Dr. Strathern said.

[Doctor's Guide, 11/7/03; Medwatch, CCL Family Foundations, March-April 2004]