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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Aug;73(3):447-55. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.040. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

Does maternal autonomy influence feeding practices and infant growth in rural India?

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Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan, 4648 SPH Tower, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA.


The high prevalence of child under-nutrition remains a profound challenge in the developing world. Maternal autonomy was examined as a determinant of breast feeding and infant growth in children 3-5 months of age. Cross-sectional baseline data on 600 mother-infant pairs were collected in 60 villages in rural Andhra Pradesh, India. The mothers were enrolled in a longitudinal randomized behavioral intervention trial. In addition to anthropometric and demographic measures, an autonomy questionnaire was administered to measure different dimensions of autonomy (e.g. decision-making, freedom of movement, financial autonomy, and acceptance of domestic violence). We conducted confirmatory factor analysis on maternal autonomy items and regression analyses on infant breast feeding and growth after adjusting for socioeconomic and demographic variables, and accounting for infant birth weight, infant morbidity, and maternal nutritional status. Results indicated that mothers with higher financial autonomy were more likely to breastfeed 3-5 month old infants. Mothers with higher participation in decision-making in households had infants that were less underweight and less wasted. These results suggest that improving maternal financial and decision-making autonomy could have a positive impact on infant feeding and growth outcomes.

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