Less anxious and more extroverted mamas are more likely to breastfeed — and keep on breastfeeding — than anxious, introverted mamas, according to a new study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Were the researchers confusing introversion with a lack of self-confidence or a lack of support? Mothers and lactation experts have plenty to say on this matter.
The study indicates that new mothers with certain personality traits may require additional support and breastfeeding education in order to feel more confident, self-assured and knowledgeable about nursing their baby.
Interestingly enough, the majority of the mothers who volunteered to contribute to this article classified themselves as introverted, and most of them have stuck with nursing for the long haul. So perhaps there is a gap in the research when it comes to connecting breastfeeding with the “mama bear syndrome,” where mothers are willing to do just about anything for their child — introverted, extroverted or otherwise.
Breastfeeding: Reserved for a party of two
Annie Pryor is a mom of three who breastfed all of her children until they were ready to quit. “I have always been a bit shy and not at all outgoing,” she says. “However, I never had trouble breastfeeding my babies in public. I think it is absurd to say that extroverted mothers are more likely to breastfeed. I would think it would be the opposite,” she adds. “Those mothers who crave social interaction like an extrovert might be less likely to breastfeed — which requires lots of alone, quiet time with the baby.”
Intentions, not personality?
The study found that introverted mothers felt more self-conscious about breastfeeding in front of others and were more likely to formula feed because other people wanted them to. “An extrovert may be more likely to nurse in public but I can assure you there are many introverted, shy women nursing their babies,” says Leigh Anne O’Connor, a lactation consultant who believes a woman’s intentions, birth experience and level of support — not personality — are the real determining factors in whether a woman breastfeeds.
Public breastfeeding vs. nursing in private
At some point every nursing mother will have to breastfeed in public — but there are plenty of ways to do so without drawing attention to yourself. “I found some discreet nursing wraps and blankets and most of the time no one had a clue what I was doing — and I liked it that way. I even nursed my kids at hockey games, in a crowded arena,” explains Kelly David, a mom of three who doesn’t qualify herself as an extrovert. “I was very self-assured in my ability to nurse and I knew that I wanted to nurse for as long as possible. For me, the benefits to me and [to] each of my kids far outweighed any of my own insecurities.”
Broadcasting the breastfeeding choice
With nurse-ins gathering steam and public breastfeeding controversies raging on, it may feel to some mothers that you either have to be all-in with nursing — ready to drop that nursing bra flap at a moment’s notice in any location — or you’re not truly part of the “group.” For anyone who’s waffling on their decision to nurse because of seeming societal pressure to be a very public advocate of very public and long-term nursing, take heart. “I definitely wasn’t the mom wearing the breastfeeding T-shirts and I didn’t have a bumper sticker on my car. I also to this day don’t feel the need to discuss my choice to nurse with anyone. It was a private choice for me and I feel that it should be a private choice for others,” says David.
Overcoming breastfeeding obstacles
The study does pinpoint that understanding what makes a mother feel confident and supported while nursing — or attempting to nurse — is important to increasing breastfeeding rates. Mothers who know how to overcome problems like a poor latch or low milk supply are more likely to breastfeed longer.
“I was told several times by pediatricians that I should limit breastfeeding and supplement with formula and that my daughter was a ‘lazy feeder’ and may never breastfeed well,” says Meaghan Seelaus Fitzgerald, who considers herself an introvert and experienced a lot of difficulty with breastfeeding. “I finally found a lactation consultant who was supportive of my decision to breastfeed and, with her help, ended up increasing my supply dramatically and never giving my daughter formula. I think breastfeeding is a decision you make and if you are committed to it you will seek out a support network that will help you make it work.”
Health factors that can inhibit confident breastfeeding
Introverted mom of two, Elizabeth Pressler, who has also been diagnosed with anxiety and chronic depression, admits she attempted breastfeeding because she wanted to give her babies the best nutrition possible, but mostly out of a sense of obligation and in response to societal pressure.
“While I support breastfeeding wholeheartedly, it’s never actually appealed to me at all. But mothers who don’t breastfeed are villainized these days. I was probably doomed because I felt such stress surrounding feeding my first baby. With my new baby, there was less stress and I went into it better prepared, but I only breastfed for about a week… and it was a huge relief when I stopped. Huge.”
Carol Millman suffers from generalized anxiety disorder and classifies herself as an introvert. She researched breastfeeding relentlessly. “I knew not to quit when it seemed hard at first. I also knew how important it was so I was determined to succeed. I nursed my son until he was 2 years old. He never had a drop of formula, and that was despite a bad latch.” She believes herself lucky because of the great deal of support she had — from hospital nurses to her mother to her husband. “Education, determination and support are the real determining factors in breastfeeding. I don’t think my introversion and anxiety helped or hindered. One thing, though — breastfeeding helped my anxiety because nursing makes you feel so sleepy and relaxed once you get it properly established!”
When the breastfeeding support isn’t there
“I nursed my daughter for 27 months and weaned against both our wills because my mother undermined my attempts to continue,” says Blithe Milks, a mother of two who falls under the introvert scale and is treated for depression. “It’s not the introversion or extroversion of a woman that determines breastfeeding success, it’s conviction and support. If she has no support, she will lose her conviction. If she has no conviction, she won’t seek out support.”
Of course, there have been other studies claiming that mothers who breastfeed are often viewed as less competent than other women. So you can take this personality and breastfeeding study with a grain of salt — and, introvert or extrovert, garner the support you need to feed your baby the way you choose, and the way you feel is best for both of you.