Moms who are extroverted and emotionally stable are more likely to breastfeed than those who are introverted or have high anxiety, according to new research from the UK. By assessing the personality traits of new mothers, scientists revealed which attitudes are most associated with saying no to breastfeeding, despite the its known health benefits.

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies recommend breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life, the decision to breastfeed isn't as simple as following the advice of medical experts. Time and work constraints may make it difficult for some moms who want to breastfeed, while others might not receive adequate support from their partners.

Feelings of embarrassment, such as with public breastfeeding, could also be at work, according to psychologists at Swansea University in the UK. In Britain, breastfeeding rates drop from 81 percent at birth to 25 percent by six weeks.

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The researchers matched breastfeeding habits to persona by having 602 new mothers — to babies between 6 to 12 months old — complete the "Ten Item Personality Measure". This survey has subjects rate the following "Big-five" personality traits on scales from one to seven:

  • Openness to Experience (Preference for novelty and variety and intellectual curiosity)
  • Extroversion (Sociability, assertiveness and talkativeness)
  • Agreeableness (Helpfulness, cooperation and sympathetic tendencies)
  • Conscientiousness (Discipline, organization and achievement orientation)
  • Emotional Stability (anxiety and impulse control)

The moms also filled out a separate questionnaire that surveyed their attitudes towards breastfeeding, which covered their knowledge of the health benefits and any personal difficulties that influenced their habits.

Mothers who were introverted found it harder to breastfeed in public, and according to the researchers, this self-consciousness drove them to use more baby formula. In turn one major reason that women stopped breastfeeding was pressure from others.

Anxious mothers were also less likely to breastfeed, which the data attributed to these women feeling like they weren't getting the support that they needed.

"The important message from the findings is that some mothers may face more challenges with breastfeeding based on their wider personality," said study author Dr. Amy Brown. "Although they may want to breastfeed, more introverted or anxious mothers may need further support in boosting their confidence and learning about how to solve problems, and they may need encouragement to make sure they access the breastfeeding support services that are available."

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In contrast extroverted mothers were more likely to breastfeed and to keep up the habit for a longer duration. The WHO recommends that women breastfeed for up to two years.

Women who were more conscientious had high rates of initiation, but did not to continue breastfeeding for as long as extroverts. The authors argue that these individuals are the most likely to follow health guidance, but may not know all of the details as to how long they should breastfeed.

"Overall, the findings show a novel and interesting link between breastfeeding duration and maternal trait personality adding to the literature examining the role of personality and health behaviours and outcomes," the authors concluded. "Understanding the relationship between maternal characteristics of extroversion, emotional stability and conscientiousness and the impact these may have on breastfeeding duration could enable health professionals to further target their support."

Source: Brown A. Maternal trait personality and breastfeeding duration: the importance of confidence and social support. Journal Of Advanced Nursing. 2013.