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Am J Hum Biol. 2003 Nov-Dec;15(6):765-80.

Patterns for the initiation of breastfeeding in humans.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


Establishment of lactation has important biological and emotional health consequences for the newborn. Even so, substantial variation within a culture and among different cultures is seen in the onset of breastfeeding. Parametric mixture models are used to explore this variation and to uncover general human patterns for the initiation of breastfeeding. The model components reflect two hypothesized patterns of behavior. The first component is a "natural" pattern of breastfeeding that reflects, to some extent, a general mammalian behavior. The second component arises through culturally mediated behaviors that affect the initiation of breastfeeding. The model was fit by maximum likelihood to interval- and right-censored observations on 26220 mother-infant pairs collected from 25 previously published studies of breastfeeding behavior. Both model components were clearly statistically identified. Effects of cultural and geographic covariates were found to have significant effects on all components of the model. Although there is clear evidence for two distinct patterns of behavior in the initiation of breastfeeding, the results suggest that learned behaviors play an important role in mediating even "natural" breastfeeding behavior.

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