Discover how maternal knowledge affects infant growth, development at next PRCHN seminar

The next Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods (PRCHN) event will explore how maternal knowledge affects infant growth and development.

Madalena MontebanMadalena Monteban, a postdoctoral scholar for PRCHN, will present “Maternal Knowledge and Child Health: The Case of Infant Growth in the Peruvian Andes” Wednesday, March 9, from noon to 1:15 p.m. in the BioEnterprise Building ground floor conference room.

Monteban’s presentation will draw on a biocultural perspective through a case study that examines the relationship between maternal knowledge and infant growth outcomes in four Quechua communities located in the southern Peruvian Andes. Many social and environmental factors affect infant growth in the Andes, including hypoxia, economic variability and access to health care. It is postulated that cultural adaptations developed by Quechua peoples over millennia may mitigate such challenges.

The research involves a qualitative examination of concordances and discordances between maternal knowledge and public health recommendations related to infant feeding and a quantitative exploration of the relationship between maternal cultural or public health infant feeding knowledge and infant growth.

Results demonstrate complementarities and tensions between Andean and public health systems that influence how mothers experience infant feeding and growth. Specifically, this research found that:

  • Maternal knowledge associated with infant feeding and care is embedded within an Andean theory of illness causation;
  • Mothers incorporate what is foreign and reorganize knowledge to make use of multiple sources of infant care;
  • A mother’s cultural knowledge is negatively associated with her child’s length; and
  • A mother’s formal education is positively associated with her child’s weight.

Findings suggest tensions surrounding infant feeding that are likely compounding the problem of providing culturally appropriate health care.

Monteban holds a PhD in environmental/ecological anthropology from the University of Georgia. Her research incorporates approaches from ethnobiology and biocultural anthropology as well as public health to study infant feeding, health inequalities and culture change. This research explores the relationship between cultural knowledge and health and whether this relationship is mediated by the appreciation or devaluation of such knowledge.

Monteban’s professional goal is to contribute to the formulation of more effective programs and policies that address health disparities among underrepresented populations in the U.S. and globally.