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January 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1984 ; 19(9): 991-5.

Belief systems and breast feeding among Filipino urban poor.

Fernandez EL, Guthrie GM.

Mothers living in squatter areas of a Philippine city were interviewed each month for a year beginning from 3 months prior to 3 months after delivery. Special attention was paid to beliefs and practices that influenced the continuation of lactation. During pregnancy women severely restricted their gain in weight, thereby limiting fat reserves for later milk production. Rituals were observed after delivery to assure adequate milk of good quality. Once established, lactation might be interrupted if the mother felt that her temperature was different from the baby's. These differences in temperature might come from warm or cold food or drinks, being caught in the rain or working in the sun. Breast feeding was often terminated if the baby developed diarrhea or if mother or child became ill. A program designed to support and encourage breast feeding must take indigenous belief systems into account. Mothers want to nurse their babies and they want to have an adequate supply of what they consider good milk. Their belief systems, beginning with weight gain during pregnancy, and including the need for rituals after delivery may curtail and/or delay early lactation. Subsequently, they may terminate breast feeding if the baby or mother have certain folk-defined illnesses. Women hold these beliefs and at the same time accept many of the beliefs and practices of modern medicine. Family and neighborhood pressures may prompt them to curtail or eliminate breast feeding when indigenous beliefs are invoked even though these beliefs are contrary to currently accepted medical opinions. We do not have satisfactory education and persuasion programs to deal with traditional beliefs and practices that we believe to be harmful.


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