Responsive feeding—initiating feeding in response to early hunger cues—supports the physiology of lactation and the development of infant feeding abilities, yet there is a dearth of research examining what predicts responsive feeding. In non-Western proximal care cultures, there is an association between responsive feeding and mother–infant physical contact, but this has not been investigated within Western populations. In two studies, we tested whether mother–infant physical contact predicted feeding in response to early hunger cues versus feeding on a schedule or after signs of distress among U.S. breastfeeding mothers. With an online questionnaire in Study 1 (n
= 626), physical contact with infants (via co-sleeping and babywearing) predicted increased likelihood of self-reported responsive feeding. Mothers who reported responsive feeding were more likely to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, breastfeed more frequently throughout the day, and had a longer planned breastfeeding duration than mothers who reported feeding on a schedule or after signs of infant distress. In Study 2 (n
= 96), a three-day feeding log showed that mother–infant physical contact predicted feeding in response to early hunger cues but mother–infant proximity (without physical contact) did not. In sum, our results demonstrate that physical contact with infants may shape breastfeeding behavior among U.S. mothers, highlighting a connection between social interaction and infant nutrition that warrants further investigation.
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