Cultural resilience, maternal knowledge, and infant growth in the Peruvian Andes
Monteban, Madalena Femina
MetadataShow full item record
Many social and environmental factors affect infant growth in the Andes including hypoxia, economic variability, and access to health care. Cultural adaptations developed by Quechua peoples over millennia may mitigate these challenges. This research explores the relationship between traditional knowledge and health in the context of biomedical health services through a mix of qualitative and quantitative data collected in four highland Quechua communities located in Cusco, Peru. It draws on ethnoecological and biocultural perspectives through a case study focusing on maternal traditional knowledge and infant growth outcomes in order to examine the role of traditional knowledge in facing the challenges of infant growth at high-altitude. In particular, it examines 1) maternal traditional and public health knowledge of infant feeding and care, 2) the association between maternal traditional and public health infant feeding knowledge and infant growth, and 3) the links between maternal infant feeding knowledge and observed behaviors. This research demonstrates complementarities and tensions between Andean and public health systems that influence how mothers experience infant feeding and growth. Specifically, this research found that 1) maternal knowledge associated with infant feeding and care is embedded within an Andean theory of illness causation; 2) mothers incorporate what is foreign and reorganize knowledge to make use of multiple source of infant care including home remedies, traditional healers, and public health services; 3) a mother’s formal education is positively associated with her child’s weight; 4) a mother’s traditional knowledge is negatively associated with her child’s length; 5) mothers conceptualize infant feeding and care through an Andean ethnomedical lens but, in practice, follow a combination of public health and traditional recommendations. Findings suggest tensions surrounding infant feeding and care which are likely compounding the problem of providing culturally appropriate health care. Findings also show that public health campaigns are working as mothers are changing their behaviors in relation to infant feeding and recognize public health services as an important resource. Finally, these findings depart from the assumption that in order to change behavior one has to change ideology and emphasize the importance of personal experience in mediating the dialectical relationship between belief and behavior.