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BOBEL, M. -. (2003). The Duration of Breastfeeding and Smoking Later in Life. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

The Duration of Breastfeeding and Smoking Later in Life

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (eyhammer@loyno.edu)
Most studies thus far have been focused on the negative biological implications of smoking on health or the positive biological implications of breastfeeding on health. Our study used Freud’s psychological theories of oral fixations to link breastfeeding and smoking. Our study examined the possibility of breastfeeding duration being related to smoking habits in a sample of 87 undergraduate college students. Our hypothesis was that the duration of breastfeeding would have a curvilinear relationship with the incidence of smoking later on in life, in that those breastfed for a much shorter or much longer duration than average would be more likely to smoke. One variable was the participants’ smoking habits, i.e. if they were a smoker, how often they smoked, etc. The other variable was breast-feeding duration, meaning how long the participant was breast-fed for in months. Our results showed that there was no significant relationship between the duration of breastfeeding and the incidence of smoking later on in life.

Freud wrote much about oral fixations stemming from the oral stage of development (Badcock, 1988). Smoking is one of those oral fixations. Freud said that “being weaned would not be a traumatic experience unless one were first addicted to the breast, or, at the very least, had developed some habitual need for it” (Badcock, 1988). This leads me to believe that breastfeeding may have something to do with smoking for oral gratification. Although most of Freud’s research ties the oral stage with the libido, or sexual part of a human’s psyche, our research is only on smoking. If a baby is weaned too early, they lack the oral stimulation that they need and may resort to other oral gratifications later on in life (Badcock, 1988). McGee and Stanton found that adolescents who smoked said they did it for a “variety of motivations ranging from smoking for relaxation and pleasure to smoking to impress others” (McGee & Stanton, 1993). Also, they found that “variables such as poor school attachment, low peer popularity, poor self-esteem, lack of involvement in sports, and poor attachment to parents have all been associated with adolescents smoking” (McGee & Stanton, 1993). Could duration of breastfeeding also be a contributing factor? Another study by Jenks found that out of all the reasons for smoking, psychological addiction was the most prevalent answer (Jenks, 1994). This ties to our study in that it says smoking has psychological implications. Schmid found that the number one reason for smoking was “because I wanted to try it” (Schmid, 2001). What makes someone “want” to try something? Freud would probably suggest that they subconsciously need that oral fixation (Badcock, 1988). Breastfeeding is an important source of many things for baby’s development (Rosenthal, 1999). One study shows that there is a “clinically important and significant association between the duration of breastfeeding and cognitive development” (Anderson, Bor, Najman, O’Callaghan, Quinn, & Williams, 2001). Breastfed babies are “generally less obese in life, have lower cholesterol, better mouth development, and fewer orthopedic problems” (Rosenthal, 1999). The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding a baby until it is at least 2 years old (Rosenthal, 1999). If breastfeeding is so important to a baby’s health, maybe Freud’s psychoanalytic research has some good implications, too. One study shows that 35% of low-income women cease breastfeeding after 8 days of delivery, which is detrimental of both the parent and the child’s health (Bronner, Frick, Milligan, Pugh, & Spatz, 2002). All the research shows that breastfeeding is a positive thing, but our study aims to find if too little or too much of it is a negative thing. Another study gives reasons by many mothers end up weaning too early such returning to work or having an insufficient milk supply (Bobo, D’Arcy, Foxman, Gillespie, Longway, & Swartz, 2002).These implications may be associated with the health of their child decreasing. Our current study aims to see if there is a negative side of breastfeeding, mainly being too little or too much being a contributing factor to the risk of smoking later on in life. Freud would agree that there are psychological implications to breastfeeding and smoking, whereas most studies have been more focused on breastfeeding’s impact on physical health (Badcock, 1988). Our hypothesis is that the length of breastfeeding, being shorter or longer than average, will have a positively correlated relationship with the incidence of smoking later in life. Most research would go against this nothing, but we are going at it with a psychoanalytic viewpoint that Freud researched.


One hundred male and female students at Loyola University New Orleans were

selected through convenience sampling. All students participated on a volunteer bias.


The materials consisted of 2 informed consent forms, one for the subject and one for the investigators, and an investigator-made survey. The survey consisted of demographic questions, questions about smoking habits, and questions about breastfeeding. Variable one was the participants’ smoking habits, i.e. if they were a smoker, how often they smoked, etc. Their smoking habits were measured by these questions to determine if they smoked, when they began, and how they smoked. Variable two is breast-feeding duration, meaning how long the participant was breast-fed for. This will be measured in months. Design and Procedure The current study was a non-experimental self-report as it examined the relationship between the duration of breast-feeding and the incidence of smoking later on in life. The participants met in a room with one or more of the investigators. The participants signed two informed consent forms. These forms gave the investigator’s names and email addresses, in case they needed to get in touch with any of the investigators at any time. After the informed consent forms were signed, the participants were given the survey. They were instructed to fill it out. Also, if they needed to call someone to get information about the two breast-feeding questions, the investigators had a phone for them to use. After each participant was finished, the investigators explained their study. Then, the participants were told that if they had any distress from the study, they were to contact the campus counseling services.

Our participants were 47.1% male and 52.9% female. Also, 48.3% smoked and 51.7% did not smoke. The mean age of those who smoked was 19.69 (SD = 1.08). The percentage of those who were breastfed was 78.2% compared to 21.8% of those who were not breastfed (M = 7.98, SD = 5.82). We formed the groups by averaging the number of months the participants were breastfed and splitting that number into 3 equal groups. 62% of the low duration group (0-6 months) smoked, 70% in the average duration group (6-9 months) smoked, and 59% in the high duration group (9-24months) smoked. Our hypothesis was that the duration of breastfeeding would have a curvilinear relationship with the occurrence of smoking later in life, in that those breastfed for a much shorter or longer duration than average would be more likely to smoke. Our ANOVA results showed that there was no significant difference between duration of breastfeeding between the low, average, and high duration groups and their incidence of smoking later in life (F (2, 67) =.337, ns). There were some interesting unintended implications found in our results. First, there was not a significant correlation between having a family member who smoked and the subject’s likelihood of smoking (r = -.069 ns). Secondly, there was a significant relationship between having a family member smoking and the likelihood of being breastfed (r = .263 p>.05). This relationship was most likely merely circumstances of our group of participants and would not reflect greater population size. Thirdly, the starting age of the participants did not have any implications with their duration of breastfeeding (F (2, 45) = .169 ns).

The results did not support our hypothesis, which was that the duration of breastfeeding would have a curvilinear relationship with the occurrence of smoking later in life, in that those breastfed for a much shorter or much longer duration than average would be more likely to smoke. Freud said that a baby weaned too early would need that oral stimulation later in life, but our study did not support this theory (Badcock, 1988). Initially supporting our hypothesis was a study where the researcher concluded that the most prevalent answer on a scale of reasons for smoking was psychological (Jenks, 1994). This was not supported by our research. Our study attempted to find a negative side to breastfeeding, although most studies found that breastfeeding was a positive action (Rosenthal, 1999). There were many practical problems with our study like that we did not have much prior research addressing our hypothesis. This decreased our validity because we were taking a chance at something that may not be significant. Also, our study lacked validity because we did not have the resources such as other questionnaires to obtain questions from, which hurt our study in that our survey did not draw from measures that would accurately portray the statistics we were attempting to find. This was the first research experiment that any of us have ever done, which in itself is a drawback because we weren’t completely familiar with exactly how to approach the research for our experiment. This decreased validity also because we were not sure how to ask the right questions to find appropriate information. Time and participant constraints also created more problems for our study. The implications of our study are few, but an important one is that breastfeeding duration does not appear to have any effect on whether or not the person will smoke later in life. In theory, this is important for parents to know so that they do not worry about the psychological implications of breastfeeding on their child. Freud’s oral fixation perspective on psychological development does not support our findings, which is also important because continuing others’ research is a part of the study of psychology. There could be many improvements on our study to try to find actual significant results. First, more research could be sought in order to back up this study. Also, the experiment could be extended not only to smoking cigarettes but other oral fixations such as food, candy, cigars, etc. This would help because it would broaden the kind of oral fixations looked at, which would link breastfeeding with any oral fixation, not just smoking. More subjects could also we attained to find more results. Other hypotheses could be formed to make the study broader and not so specific on smoking habits and duration of breastfeeding. Our study attempted to be creative to look at Freud’s oral fixations theory, but unfortunately we did not find significant results to back him up.

Anderson, M.J., Bor, W., Najman, J.M., O’Callaghan, M., Quinn, P.J., and Williams, G.M. (2001). The effect of breastfeeding on child development at 5 years: A cohort study (J. Paediatr. Child Health (2001) 37, 465-469).Badcock, C. (1988). Essential Freud. Oxford England: Basil Blackwell.Bobo, J. PhD., D’Arcy, H .J.S. MS., Foxman, B. PhD., Gillespie, B. PhD., Longeway, M. MSN., and Swartz, K. MD. (2002). Factors associated with weaning in the first 3 months postpartum (J fam Pract 2002; 51:439-444).Bronner, Y. ScD, RD., Frick, K.D. PhD., Milligan, R.A. PhD, RNC., Pugh, L.C. PhD., and Spatz, D. PhD, RNC. (2002) Breastfeeding duration, costs, and benefits of a support program for low-income breastfeeding women (Birth 29:2 June 2002). Bethesda, Maryland: The National Institute of Nursing Research.Jenks, R.J. (1994). Smoking and satisfaction and motivations: A comparison of men and women (Journal of Social Psychology, Dec94, Vol 134 Issue 6, p847, 3p).McGee, R., and Stanton, W.R. (1993). A longitudinal study of reasons for smoking in adolescence (Addiction (1993) 88, 265-271).Rosenthal, M.S. (1999). The Pregnancy Sourcebook. Lowell House.Schmid, H. PhD. (2001). Predictors of cigarette smoking by young adults and readiness to change (Substance use & misuse, 36 (11), 1519-1542). Marcel Dekker, Inc.

Submitted 12/11/2003 3:28:55 PM
Last Edited 12/11/2003 3:33:55 PM
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