Six months of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is considered optimal for infant health, though globally most infants begin complementary feeding (CF) earlier—including among populations that practice prolonged breastfeeding. Two frameworks for understanding patterns of early CF emerge in the literature. In the first, maternal and infant needs trade-off, as “maternal-centric” factors—related to time and energy demands, reproductive investment, cultural influences, and structural barriers— favor supplanting breastfeeding with earlier and increased CF. A second framework considers that “infant-centric” factors—related to infant energetic needs—favor CF before six months to supplement breastfeeding.
We apply these two frameworks in examining early CF among the Tsimane—a high-fertility, high-mortality, forager-horticulturalist population residing in the Bolivian Amazon. Data were collected from a mixed-longitudinal sample of 161 Tsimane mother-infant pairs from August 2012 – April 2013. Tsimane mothers generally reported introducing CF because of perceived infant needs. However, CF is introduced with continued intensive breastfeeding, and generally coupled with premastication. Risks of earlier CF relative to the minimum hazard (estimated at 5 births) were elevated for lower and higher parity mothers, but were significantly greater only after 9 births. Seventeen percent of mothers reported introducing CF because of low milk supply. Introducing CF because of low milk was most common from 0-3 months of age and among higher parity mothers, which may reflect physiological constraints. Maternal reproductive trade-offs and perceived infant needs may help explain the low prevalence of EBF to six months among other populations in which breastfeeding is not structurally or culturally constrained.
Stieglitz, J., Madimenos, F., Kaplan, H., & Gurven, M. (2016). Calcaneal Quantitative Ultrasound Indicates Reduced Bone Status Among Physically Active Adult Forager-Horticulturalists. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 31(3), 663-671. https://doi.org/10.1002/jbmr.2730
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