Child feeding practices, authoritative knowledge, and the mediation of social support networks among new Canadian mothers living in Hamilton, Ontario
Authors: Sarah Chadwick
Migration and settlement are disruptive processes. Families are often under financial strain and are separated from family members and friends back in their home countries. For new mothers, this absence of social support adds to the challenge of raising a child in a new country. This research employs a mixed methodological approach in an investigation of infant feeding practices, maternal social support systems and decision-making, and the construction of authoritative knowledge in infant nutritional health. Data from the Canadian Community Health Survey were used to explore national trends in a comparative study of breastfeeding and vitamin D supplementation practices between Canadian-born and immigrant mothers. A series of focus group interviews conducted in collaboration with the Ontario Early Years Centres (OEYC) of Hamilton inform the qualitative portion of the study, and the exploration of factors contributing to mothers’ infant feeding decisions. Findings indicate immigrant status and education are strongly, positively associated with breastfeeding initiation and exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months. Educational attainment, possibly indicative of health literacy, is also positively associated with vitamin D supplementation for exclusively breastfed infants. Many of the mothers who partook in the interviews also belonged to the Welcome Baby prenatal group facilitated by a public health nurse at the OEYC. The interview results suggest that the Welcome Baby program is an important source of information about infant care for New Canadian mothers, however, the advice they received often conflicts with the practices in their home countries. This thesis explores the production of authoritative knowledge and circumstances under which New Canadian mothers choose to incorporate Canadian health recommendations. Additionally, I discuss some of the existing recommendations and health messaging surrounding infant care and feeding which may undermine Ontario’s public health goals to increase exclusive breastfeeding and its duration among mothers living in Canada.
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