In 2013-2014, NIHMP (the National Institute for Health, Migration and Poverty) carried out
a project study in medical anthropology titled “Clinical and social evaluation of medical practices in
paediatric treatment of infectious diseases for children belonging to vulnerable populations”.
Using the ethnographic method, several women were interviewed on the following topics: barriers to
breastfeeding; the effects of breastfeeding on the psychological and physical health of infants; the
social and domestic consequences which affect those women who did not stop breastfeeding when
they felt they should have. The analysis of the socio-cultural construction and its representation
which emerged from these interviews was the major aim of the study.
Target of the research were 46 children and adolescents emigrated to Rome, Italy, from sub-Saharan
and North Africa, and from the Asian continent (Indian subcontinent, West Asia, Eurasia, Middle
East and the Arabian peninsula). Some of the illnesses, including psychological and physical
disorders observed in these minors, are due to those mothers who experienced traumatic events
during the breastfeeding period - such as maternal Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) - thus affecting
the nutritional values of their milk.
This study emphasizes the importance of cultural values in infant feeding choices, defines specific
barriers to breastfeeding and the effects that a mother’s choice to keep on breastfeeding or stopping it
can have on both her psychological and physical health and her baby’s.