Declining Breastfeeding Rates Among Immigrant Populations: A Look Through an Evolutionary Lens
In the UK, immigrant women from developing countries are more likely to initiate breastfeeding and sustain it for longer periods than women in the nonimmigrant white population. This desirable pattern, however, is being eroded among UK-born generations where incidence and duration of lactation are significantly lower than in first-generation immigrants. I use concepts and principles derived from life history theory and human reproductive ecology to explore how the physical environment may affect the costs and benefits of alternative breastfeeding strategies. Specifically, I compare two ecological scenarios: one of high infectious risk and energetic constraint like the one prevailing in the countries of origin of many immigrant communities versus one of low infectious disease risk and energy surplus characteristic of host countries like the UK. I contrast the results with the empirical findings on breastfeeding rates obtained during a migrant study conducted among first- and second-generation Bangladeshi women living in London. Finally, I discuss how the insights obtained taking an evolutionary approach may be incorporated into programmes and policies related to infant feeding practices and maternal health among immigrant populations.
KeywordsBreastfeeding Immigrants Pathogen risk Reproductive costs Plasticity Fitness
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