Breastfeeding in two Mexican villages: social and demographic perspectives Chapter uri icon


  • Data were gathered in 1976 and 1977 in 2 central Mexican farming communities, Tepetlaoxtoc Villa de Hidalgo and San Jeronimo Amanalco, to show how cultural systems, in addition to biological constraints, shape lactation patterns and endow breastfeeding with social significance. In these 2 Mexican communities, people see lactation as requiring conscious efforts on the part of the mother with the support of her family and friends. These efforts are regarded as necessary to ensure both the quantity and quality of breast milk. 2 demographic aspects of infant feeding practices are evident in the communities. First, lactational infertility is a major factor limiting birthrates. Second, high child mortality also acts as a constraint on population growth, and patterns of child mortality in turn seem to be related to the timing of weaning phases. Demographic data and children's breastfeeding histories were elicited from each woman participant during informal interviews, usually over the course of 3 or 4 visits to a household. The participants represent a substantial proportion of the women in each community. In Tepetlaoxtoc, 174 women were drawn in random and availability samples participated in the study. They represent 46% of adult women -- those at least 15 years of age. In Amanalco, 111 women drawn in an availability sample participated, or 24% of all adult women. Villager's views and other ethnographic observations of breastfeeding were recorded after they emerged in free ranging discussions. Village women followed a dietary regime that prohibits some foods and prescribes others to ensure the adequate production of healthful breast milk. The women tried to avoid negative emotional states that are also viewed as making breast milk unhealthy. In accord with the belief that lactation uses up maternally irreplaceable body substances, it is seen as incurring debts on the part of children, who are obligated to attend their mothers' wants in old age. The succession of sweat baths required to promote the production of healthful milk in Amanalco is seen as another form of maternal sacrifice. The rules that guide weaning allow considerable latitude in timing the introduction of non-breast milk foods and completing weaning. Weaning is timed according to the child's biological and psychological maturation, rather than chronological age. Lactation provides the major contraceptive influence, though in Tepetlaoxtoc it seems that additional contraceptive techniques are also used. The high rates of child mortality in Amanalco are hypothesized to result in part from prolonged lactation without adequate supplementation, in combination with current weaning diets that may be nutritionally insufficient due to economic shortages.

author list (cited authors)

  • Millard, A. V., & Graham, M. A.

complete list of authors

  • Millard, AV||Graham, MA

editor list (cited editors)

  • Hull, V., & Simpson, M.

Book Title

  • Breastfeeding, Child Health & Child Spacing Cross-cultural Perspectives

publication date

  • January 1985