Infant care practices in New Zealand: a cross-cultural qualitative study

Soc Sci Med. 2001 Nov;53(9):1135-48. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(00)00408-1.


This paper describes and compares the infant care practices and beliefs of Maori, Tongan, Samoan, Cook Islands, Niuean and Pakeha (European) caregivers residing in Auckland, New Zealand. Focusing on four areas--sources of support and advice; infant feeding; infant sleeping arrangements; and traditional practices and beliefs--it explores inter-ethnic similarities and differences and intra-ethnic tensions. The international literature indicates that there can be significant cultural variation in infant care practices and in the meanings attributed to them. There is, however, little New Zealand literature on this topic, despite its importance for effective health service and health message delivery. Participants were primary caregivers of infants under 12 months. An average of six focus groups were conducted within each ethnic group, resulting in a total of 37 groups comprising 150 participants. We found similarities across all ethnic groups in the perceived importance of breastfeeding and the difficulties experienced in establishing and maintaining this practice. The spectrum of behaviours ranged widely with differences most pronounced between Pacific caregivers, especially those Island-raised, and Pakeha caregivers, especially those in nuclear families. Amongst the former, norms included: the family as central in providing support and advice; infant bedsharing; abdominal rubbing during pregnancy; baby massage; and the importance of adhering to traditional protocols to ensure infant well-being. Amongst the latter, norms included: strong reliance on professional advice; looser family support networks; the infant sleeping in a cot; and adherence to Western biomedical understandings of health and illness. Maori caregivers bridged the spectrum created by these groups and exhibited a diverse range of practices. Intra-cultural differences were present in all groups indicating the dynamic nature of cultural practices. They were most evident between Pacific-raised and New Zealand-raised Pacific caregivers, with the latter attempting to marry traditional with Western beliefs and practices.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Culture*
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology*
  • Europe / ethnology
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Care / methods*
  • Infant Care / psychology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • New Zealand
  • Oceanic Ancestry Group / psychology
  • Pacific Islands / ethnology
  • Parenting / ethnology*
  • Sleep
  • Social Support