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The longer a new mom breast-feeds, the stronger her maternal bond may be with her child years later, a new study suggests.

The 10-year study of nearly 1,300 families in the United States found that women who breast-fed their children longer had more maternal sensitivity well past their children’s infant and toddler years.

New moms in the study breast-fed for an average of 17 weeks. Fewer than 1 percent breast-fed for 2 years and 29 percent didn’t breast-feed at all, the study found. Researchers then interviewed and videotaped families in their homes periodically until their child turned 11.

Maternal sensitivity includes a mother’s responsiveness to her child, her emotional tone, her flexibility in her behavior and her ability to read her child’s cues.

"It was surprising to us that breast-feeding duration predicted change over time in maternal sensitivity," said study author Jennifer Weaver, from Boise State University in Idaho.

"We had prior research suggesting a link between breast-feeding and early maternal sensitivity, but nothing to indicate that we would continue to see effects of breast-feeding significantly beyond the period when breast-feeding had ended," she added.

Weaver’s comments were contained in a news release from the American Psychological Association.

Although breast-feeding for longer was associated with greater maternal sensitivity over time, the actual effect was small, the researchers noted.

That means that breast-feeding may be only one of many ways the bond is strengthened between mother and child, Weaver said.

The findings were published in the journal Developmental Psychology on 30 October.