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Soc Sci Med. 2014 Jan;100:148-58. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.10.034. Epub 2013 Nov 7.

Modernization is associated with intensive breastfeeding patterns in the Bolivian Amazon.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA. Electronic address:
Integrative Anthropological Sciences Program, Department of Anthropology, University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


For many traditional, non-industrialized populations, intensive and prolonged breastfeeding buffers infant health against poverty, poor sanitation, and limited health care. Due to novel influences on local economies, values, and beliefs, the traditional and largely beneficial breastfeeding patterns of such populations may be changing to the detriment of infant health. To assess if and why such changes are occurring in a traditional breastfeeding population, we document breastfeeding patterns in the Bolivian Tsimane, a forager-horticulturalist population in the early stages of modernization. Three predictions are developed and tested to evaluate the general hypothesis that modernizing influences encourage less intensive breastfeeding in the Tsimane: 1) Tsimane mothers in regions of higher infant mortality will practice more intensive BF; 2) Tsimane mothers who are located closer to a local market town will practice more intensive BF; and 3) Older Tsimane mothers will practice more intensive BF. Predictions were tested using a series of maternal interviews (from 2003 to 2011, n = 215) and observations of mother-infant dyads (from 2002 to 2007, n = 133). Tsimane breastfeeding patterns were generally intensive: 72% of mothers reported initiating BF within a few hours of birth, mean (±SD) age of CF introduction was 4.1 ± 2.0 months, and mean (±SD) weaning age was 19.2 ± 7.3 months. There was, however, intra-population variation in several dimensions of breastfeeding (initiation, frequency, duration, and complementary feeding). Contrary to our predictions, breastfeeding was most intensive in the most modernized Tsimane villages, and maternal age was not a significant predictor of breastfeeding patterns. Regional differences accounted for variation in most dimensions of breastfeeding (initiation, frequency, and complementary feeding). Future research should therefore identify constraints on breastfeeding in the less modernized Tsimane regions, and examine the formation of maternal beliefs regarding infant feeding.


Acculturation; Behavior; Breastfeeding; Complementary feeding; Indigenous; Infancy; Modernization; Tsimane; Weaning

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