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PLoS One. 2017 Jul 3;12(7):e0180185. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180185. eCollection 2017.

Breastfeeding practices, beliefs, and social norms in low-resource communities in Mexico: Insights for how to improve future promotion strategies.

Author information

Nutrition and Health Research Center, National Institute of Public Health. Cuervanaca, Morelos, Mexico.
Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University of California, San Francisco. California, United States of America.
Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, United States of America.



Breastfeeding is recommended exclusively for the first 6 months after birth, with continued breastfeeding for at least 2 years. Yet prevalence of these recommendations is low globally, although it is an effective and cost-effective way to prevent serious infections and chronic illness. Previous studies have reported that social support greatly influences breastfeeding, but there is little evidence on perceived social norms in Mexico and how they affect actual behavior.


Our objective was to investigate breastfeeding intention, practices, attitudes, and beliefs, particularly normative, among low-resource communities in central and southern Mexico.


We performed a secondary analysis using the theory of planned behavior with cross-sectional data, which included semi-structured individual interviews with fathers (n 10), 8 focus groups with mothers (n 50), and 8 focus groups with women community leaders (n 44) with a total of 104 participants. Our data also included a quantitative survey among pregnant women and mothers (n 321).


Women reported supplementing breast milk with water and teas soon after birth, as well as introducing small bites of solid food a few months after birth. Social norms appeared to support breastfeeding, but not exclusive breastfeeding or breastfeeding for periods longer than about a year. This may be partially explained by: a) behavioral beliefs that for the first 6 months breast milk alone is insufficient for the baby, and that water in addition to breast milk is necessary to hydrate an infant and b) normative beliefs related to the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public and as the child gets older.


Future strategies should focus on positively influencing social norms to support recommended practices, and emphasize the specific reasons behind the recommendations. Future efforts should take a multi-pronged approach using a variety of influences, not only directed at healthcare providers but close family members, including fathers.

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