Food Taboos among Nursing Mothers of Mexico

By Santos-Torres, Maria Irene; Vásquez-Garibay, Edgar | Journal of Health Population and Nutrition, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Food Taboos among Nursing Mothers of Mexico


Santos-Torres, Maria Irene, Vásquez-Garibay, Edgar, Journal of Health Population and Nutrition


INTRODUCTION

The importance of breastmilk as the best and only food for infants aged less than six months is recognized worldwide, and also recognized is the promotion of breast-feeding as a basic food beyond six months when infants should also receive adequate complementary feeding (1,2).

The international campaign to promote breastfeeding in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative has faced a number of obstacles, which mitigate or reduce the positive impact of nursing, especially during the prenatal and neonatal periods. The latter is particularly crucial to the implementation of successful breast-feeding (3,4).

Successful breast-feeding is affected by many cultural, religious, social, and family influences (5). The outstanding problems that have not been sufficiently examined are food taboos, myths, prejudices, false beliefs, and inadequate feeding behaviours and their relationship to the idea that eating certain foods has a potentially harmful effect during gestation and nursing (6-9).

In Mexico, health professionals and nutritionists promoting breast-feeding in the baby-friendly hospitals face difficulties due to the refusal of mothers to eat typical everyday foods because they consider these harmful, although these have an unquestionable nutritional value.

Food taboos recorded all over the world differ only in type and characteristics. In a survey carried out among the Chinese, Cambodian and Vietnamese women living in the United States, Fishman et al. observed that delivery produces 'excessive cooling' which needs to be offset by eating hot foods for 100 days after childbirth (10).

Trigo et al. investigated the food taboos of two rural localities in Brazil during pregnancy and lactation (9). The more frequent taboo was related to the simultaneous consumption of milk and fruits, such as mango, orange, pineapple, and nuts. They also considered eating eggs and fruits together harmful, as well as a combination of meat with fish. They mentioned that "combinations are harmful", "combination kills", and "mixing together causes indigestion and vomiting." These restrictions were more frequent during the lactation period than during pregnancy.

Mahmood et al. looked at the demographic profiles of mothers and how these were related to their beliefs and food habits during pregnancy and nursing (11). They found that age, type of family, parity, and number of pregnancies did not have any significant effect. On the other hand, there was a significant difference between mothers of rural and urban origin. The authors supported the idea that the practice of changing the diet or eliminating specific foods seen mainly among rural mothers was due to poverty and lack of knowledge about feeding and nutrition.

Sundararaj and Pereira observed that food taboos adversely affect the daily consumption of protein, energy, and some nutrients during the first month of nursing (12). However, despite the poor intake of nutrients, women successfully fed their infants, and weight gain was satisfactory during the first month.

In Mexico, there are many beliefs and taboos regarding health, reproduction, and consumption of food. Some foods are considered potentially harmful (13-15). However, reports investigating the frequent occurrence of these food taboos during the nursing period, their geographic distribution, demographic profiles of mothers demonstrating inadequate feeding behaviours and their repercussion on the health and nutrition status of the mother and her infant have not been found.

The purpose of this report is to describe the frequency of taboos and inadequate feeding behaviour of nursing mothers whose infants were born in a baby-friendly hospital targeting the poor in the metropolitan area of Guadalajara. A second purpose was to identify the general characteristics of mothers and their socioeconomic and demographic background and to explore the association between feeding behaviour and several characteristics of the nursing mothers. …

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