Not just about food : an attachment perspective on feeding



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In infancy feeding is a central part of the mother-infant relationship and contributes greatly to the creation of an emotional bond between them. The purpose of this study was to investigate the quality of mother-infant interactions during feeding through an attachment perspective and to explore the long-term effects of these interactions on children’s mental health. Three main hypotheses were proposed. The first hypothesis investigated if maternal attachment representations influence mothers’ behaviors during feeding and thus the quality of feeding interactions. The second hypothesis concerned the long-term effects of feeding interactions on children’s later development of internalizing and externalizing symptoms. The third hypothesis implied testing mediation models predicting how maternal attachment influences maternal feeding behaviors and how these behaviors impact children’s risk of internalizing and externalizing problems. To test the first hypothesis, maternal attachment representations were assessed prenatally and mother-infants feeding interactions were evaluated when the infant was 8 months old. Data were collected for 116 mother-infant dyads. The second hypothesis was tested by gathering information on children’s mental health symptoms at age 7. Data for 71 children were available. The third hypothesis was tested using the data previously collected to analyze hypothesis one and two. Mothers’ representations of the relationship with their own parents during childhood, assessed prior to the baby’s birth, predicted the extent to which they would develop controlling and conflicted interaction patterns with their infants. Children who experienced controlling maternal behaviors during feeding at 8 months were at risk for developing symptoms of anxious depression at age 7. On the other hand, children who engaged in feeding interactions marked by conflicts with their mothers were more likely to display symptoms of ADHD and aggression at age 7.