Breastfeeding Duration and the Social Learning of Infant Feeding Knowledge in Two Maya Communities.
Variation in the durations of exclusive breastfeeding (exBF) and any breastfeeding (anyBF) is associated with socioecological factors. This plasticity in breastfeeding behavior appears adaptive, but the mechanisms involved are unclear. With this concept in mind, we investigated whether durations of exBF and anyBF in a rural Maya population covary with markers of a form of socioecological change—market integration—and whether individual factors (individual learning, physiological plasticity) and/or learning from others in the community (social learning, norm adherence) mediate these changes. Using data from 419 mother-child pairs from two Guatemalan Maya villages, we fit a bivariate linear mixed model. The model compared exBF and anyBF among children from households of varying degrees of market integration whose mothers follow what we inferred to be local infant-feeding norms. It controlled for other factors expected to affect breastfeeding durations. We found evidence that exBF is associated with whether mothers follow their population’s infant feeding norms, but no evidence that exBF is associated with the household’s level of market integration. Conversely, anyBF is significantly associated with the household’s market integration, but not with the villages’ inferred norms. Because deviations from exBF norms are likely to result in infant mortality and reduced fitness, we hypothesize that the incentive to conform is relatively strong. Relatively greater individual plasticity in anyBF allows mother-child pairs to tailor it to socioecological conditions. Deviations from anyBF norms may be tolerated because they may provide later-life health/fitness payoffs, while posing few risks to infant survival.