Culturally-mediated caregiver responsiveness during breastfeeding interactions

Exclusive breastfeeding is internationally recognized as the optimal feeding program for infants under six months of age and is especially important in communities where infant mortality is high.  Communication during breastfeeding is thought to have implications for early contingency preferences, such that the human-specific suck-pause pattern of nursing is reinforced by mothers jiggling the infant during pauses to encourage sucking. Past studies have established the ubiquity of maternal jiggling in response to infant pauses, and when mothers refrain from jiggling, 8-week-old infants protest the lack of feedback by vocalizing. This suggests an early preference for contingent responsiveness similar to the still-face effect ubiquitously observed in older infants. However, these studies have only assessed behavior of Western populations. Preliminary interview data from Guatemala and the U.S. suggest that mothers in the U.S. are more likely to respond to pauses during nursing by talking or jiggling the infant, whereas mothers in Guatemala are more likely to report waiting during pauses, rather than responding to stimulate sucking.

The aims of this project are to assess cultural variation in how adults communicate with infants during breastfeeding, and the implications for infant nursing behavior. These results will have both theoretical and practical implications, as infant-caregiver communication during breastfeeding may be laying an important foundation for learning about cultural norms for communication and may also have an effect on nursing behavior.