Weaning practices of the Makushi of Guyana and their relationship to infant and child mortality: A preliminary assessment of international recommendations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for the first 6 months of life, primarily because of potential immunological benefits which are deemed to outweigh nutritive costs for infants. This recommendation is controversial, as studies of the relationship between the term of EBF and infant and child health have produced conflicting results. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the relationship between the term of EBF and infant and child mortality among a group of swidden-horticulturalists in lowland South America. Consistent with the WHO, we hypothesized that EBF < 6 months will compromise the survival of the infant or child. This relationship was assessed via recall data generated in 2001 in structured interviews with 60 Makushi Amerindian women in Guyana's North Rupununi region. The data were analyzed with t-tests, Fisher's exact test, and logistic regression. The results do not support our hypothesis; the term of EBF is not found to be related to infant or child mortality. This is surprising given the potential for contamination in nonbreast-milk foods in this environment. Notably, this is occurring among mothers who are not energetically stressed. We propose that the apparent lack of benefit of EBF = 6 months is due to insufficient energy supply from breast milk alone, which may predispose the child to morbidity when subsequently stressed. This study concurs with others which revealed no significant benefits to the infant of EBF > 6 months, and the recognition that universal recommendations must be situated within local ecological contexts. (author's)