Breastfeeding practices among poor women in Mesoamerica

Published July 1, 2015, in The Journal of Nutrition (opens in a new window)


Breastfeeding is an effective intervention to reduce pediatric morbidity and mortality. The prevalence of practices and predictors of breastfeeding among the poor in Mesoamerica has not been well described.


We estimated the prevalence of ever breastfeeding, early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, and breastfeeding between 6 mo and 2 y of age using household survey data for the poorest quintile of families living in six Mesoamerican countries. We also assessed the predictors of breastfeeding behaviors to identify factors amenable to policy interventions.


We analyzed data from 12,529 children in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (Chiapas State), Nicaragua, Panama, and El Salvador using baseline survey data from the Salud Mesoamérica 2015 Initiative. We created multivariable Poisson regression models with robust variance estimates to calculate adjusted risk ratios (aRRs) and 95% CIs for breastfeeding outcomes and to control for sociodemographic and health-care-related factors.


Approximately 97% of women in all countries breastfed their child at least once, and 65.1% (Nicaragua) to 79.0% (Panama) continued to do so between 6 mo and 2 y of age. Breastfeeding in the first hour of life varied by country (P < 0.001), with the highest proportion reported in Panama (89.8%) and the lowest in El Salvador (65.6%). Exclusive breastfeeding also varied by country (P = 0.037), ranging from 44.5% in Panama to 76.8% in Guatemala. For every 20% increase in the proportion of peers who exclusively breastfed, there was an 11% (aRR: 1.11, 95% CI: 1.04, 1.18) increase in the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding.


Our study revealed significant variation in the prevalence of breastfeeding practices by poor women across countries surveyed by the Salud Mesoamérica 2015 initiative. Future interventions to promote exclusive breastfeeding should consider ways to leverage the role of the community in supporting individual women.

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Colombara DV, Hernández B, Gagnier MC, Johanns C, Desai SS, Haakenstad A, McNellan CR, Palmisano EB, Ríos-Zertuche D, Schaefer A, Zúñiga-Brenes P, Zyznieuski N, Iriarte E, Mokdad AH. Breastfeeding practices among poor women in Mesoamerica. The Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Jul 1. doi:10.3945/​jn.115.213736.