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Migrant parents: Political, socio-economic and cultural influences on breastfeeding and weaning in the UK

Condon, L; McClean, Stuart


L Condon

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Dr Stuart McClean
Associate Professor Public Health (Health & Wellbeing)


Infant feeding behaviours impact upon maternal and child health not only in the short term but throughout the lifespan. Large scale cohort studies show that that mothers migrating to the United Kingdom (UK) are more likely to practise healthy behaviours on arrival than after settlement, with mothers 5% less likely to breastfeed to 4 months for every additional 5 years spent in the UK1. Despite the potential impact upon the health of babies and their mothers, there is currently little exploration of the breastfeeding and weaning behaviours of migrant mothers in empirical research, and to date there have been few attempts in practice to address this decrease in healthy infant feeding behaviours among this growing sector of the population. Jayaweera 2 highlights that current research and policy are predominantly concerned with ethnic equalities in health, rarely considering the specific impact of migration. Additionally the health needs of refugees and asylum seekers have attracted more research than the health needs of those who come to study or work, and those from more established groups. This paper explores infant feeding behaviours among a variety of migrant groups and is based upon two qualitative studies carried out in South West England between 2013 and 2015. Romanian Roma mothers and grandmothers (n = 22) took part in semi-structured interviews focused on breastfeeding and weaning in the first year of life, taking into account social norms within their ethnic group and the effect of moving to the UK on individual and community normative behaviours. Mono-cultural focus groups were held with parents (n = 28) who had migrated to the UK within the last ten years, and discussion centred on how parents keep their pre-school children healthy in the UK following recent migration from EU accession countries, Somalia and South Asia . Both studies contribute to a highly nuanced picture of how infant feeding behaviours are influenced by the context of family life post-migration. Participants described work, study, family and community as impacting upon the choices parents made about how to feed their babies. Findings illustrate the differences in the context of daily life, both intra- and inter -nationalities, which drive change in the country of adoption. Feeding behaviours were particularly shaped by socio-economic status pre and post-migration. These findings add to the existing body of research about infant feeding among migrant mothers, providing in-depth contextual detail around the influence of migration in addition to ethnicity. It is known that moving to the UK from another culture can lead to changes in lifestyle, which have a long term impact upon the health of children. This study contributes to an understanding of infant feeding practices, beliefs and choices among migrant parents, and the factors which shape them. This provides insights for health professionals, researchers and commissioners who seek to promote better health for migrants and their children.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives
Start Date Aug 23, 2016
End Date Aug 25, 2016
Acceptance Date Feb 10, 2015
Publication Date Jan 1, 2015
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords migrant health, nutrition, breastfeeding, qualitative research
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives