Infant feeding practices of low-income, African-American, adolescent mothers: an ecological, multigenerational perspective

Soc Sci Med. 1999 Oct;49(8):1085-100. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00198-7.


The early introduction of non-milk foods among African-American infants has been well documented. Several studies report the addition of semi-solids as early as 1-2 weeks of age. This study investigated, through ethnographic, repeat indepth interviews with teen mothers and grandmothers of infants, the determinants of such feeding practices and the inter-generational factors involved in infant feeding decision-making. Nineteen adolescent mothers were recruited from Baltimore City WIC programs. The teen mothers were interviewed in their homes during four separate visits and the grandmothers at least twice. Ethnographic field guides focused on questions about what, why and how infants were fed and on the 'ethnotheories' of parenting and infant care in this population. All interviews were taped and transcripts were analyzed using text retrieval software. Results confirmed that it is the cultural norm to feed cereal in the bottle and to feed other semi-solid foods within the first month of life. Most grandmothers played the dominant role in deciding what the infant should eat and the timing of the introduction of solids. This pattern occurred both because grandmothers had extensive physical access to their grandchildren and because teen mothers were dependent upon grandmothers. The use of qualitative research methods, with an ecological, multi-generational focus, provides a rich description of the context within which infant feeding decisions are made.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans*
  • Edible Grain
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Care*
  • Infant Food*
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Maryland
  • Mothers
  • Parenting
  • Poverty