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J Biosoc Sci. 1991 Apr;23(2):137-54.

Lactation, birth spacing and maternal work-loads among two castes in rural Nepal.

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Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Oxford.


The nursing behaviour of rural Nepali women, from two castes inhabiting the same village, is quantified on the basis of 2202 hr of continuous and direct day-time observation over 1 year. Feed duration, interval, total time and daily frequency are examined in relation to women's work, particularly the type of subsistence activity and seasonality. 'Opportunity' feeds are governed both by infant demands and maternal activity. Caste differences in birth intervals are also discussed.


From 1982-1983, researchers observed working women from 2 castes (16 Tamang and 8 Kami) in Salme, Nepal for 11-13 hours/day to determine if breast feeding and working behaviors explain fertility differences between them. Work loads greatly increased for the agropastoralist Tamang women during the monsoon (p.0007), but not so for the low caste Kami women who worked mainly at home. Intervals between feeds and agricultural activities averaged 98 minutes while they averaged 47 minutes for husbandry activities (p.05). Neither affected feed duration. If Tamang women worked in a labor group rather than alone, they tended to provide shorter breast feeds only during the monsoon (p.05). Infant age greatly affected duration of breast feeds (p.0005), interval between feeds (p.004), and total frequency and nursing time (p.0001) among the Tamang. Seasonality did not affect these relationships, except for 3 year olds in which seasonality was significantly reduced during the monsoon. On the other hand, it did have a strong effect on interval (p.05), total frequency (p.01), and total time (p.001) for the Kami. Tamang women provided longer feeds for their infants than did the Kami women during the winter (p.0002), but differences between the 2 castes were minor during spring. Yet Tamang women breast feed their 2 year olds for shorter times than Kami women during the spring (p.01). Among the Kami, infant age did not affect duration, interval, total frequency, and total time. Therefore the 2 castes were not alike in how they planned feeds from day to day. In fact, the Kami women fed their children at very irregular intervals regardless of the child's age. As for Tamang women, intervals grew more irregular with increasing age of the child. Supplementary foods most likely accounted for the high variability between the 2 castes. No 3 year old Kami children were breast fed. The interval between feeds rose consistently with infant age for the Tamang but not for the Kami.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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