McNair/Gateway Scholars Program USC

Silvia Green

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Major and Classification

Anthropology, American Studies & Ethnicity

Faculty Mentor

  • Nancy Lutkehaus, Ph.D.

Department

  • Anthropology

McNair Project

Unnatural Maternal Instincts: The Effects of Breastfeeding on the Maternal Bond and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Abstract
Because maternal instincts do not come naturally to all women after giving birth, women have not always ensured the safety of their offspring. With this in mind, it is important to examine Sudden Infant Death Syndrome objectively and acknowledge the possibility that some cases are diagnosed incorrectly. The connection between SIDS and breastfeeding is important, as breastfeeding has been proposed as a protective factor against sudden infant death. This article explores how breastfeeding reinforces the maternal-infant bond and reduces postpartum mental illness, and how these factors may lead to what can appear to be a sudden infant death. The study presents two cases of women with differing breastfeeding and bonding experiences. The research also makes use of interviews with experts regarding the possibility of misdiagnosis and of mother-induced SIDS, as well as of literature that explores studies on breastfeeding and SIDS, breastfeeding and maternal attachment, misdiagnosed cases of SIDS, and the maternal instinct. This research found that the reduction in prevalence of SIDS among breastfed babies may be caused by the breastfeeding mother's stronger bond with the infant and lower incidence of postpartum mental illnesses. Therefore, breastfeeding mothers are less likely to harm or neglect their infants. By acknowledging the maternal benefits of breastfeeding rather than the benefits to the infant, these findings propose another possible explanation for the reduction of SIDS in breastfed infants. Identifying risk factors in the mother will reduce the number of misdiagnosed SIDS cases and allow for a more accurate assessment of the causes of SIDS.