Food Insecurity During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding by Low-Income Hispanic Mothers


Pregnancy, infancy, and toddlerhood are sensitive times in which families are particularly vulnerable to household food insecurity and when disparities in child obesity emerge. Understanding obesity-promoting infant-feeding beliefs, styles, and practices in the context of food insecurity could better inform both food insecurity and child obesity prevention interventions and policy guidelines.


We performed purposive sampling of low-income Hispanic mothers (n = 100) with infants in the first 2 years of life, all of whom were participants in a randomized controlled trial of an early child obesity prevention intervention called the Starting Early Program. Bilingual English-Spanish interviewers conducted semistructured qualitative interviews, which were audio recorded, transcribed, and translated. By using the constant comparative method, transcripts were coded through an iterative process of textual analysis until thematic saturation was reached.


Three key themes emerged: (1) contributors to financial strain included difficulty meeting basic needs, job instability, and high vulnerability specific to pregnancy, infancy, and immigration status; (2) effects on infant feeding included decreased breastfeeding due to perceived poor maternal diet, high stress, and limiting of healthy foods; and (3) coping strategies included both home- and community-level strategies.


Stakeholders in programs and policies to prevent poverty-related disparities in child obesity should consider and address the broader context by which food insecurity is associated with contributing beliefs, styles, and practices. Potential strategies include addressing misconceptions about maternal diet and breast milk adequacy, stress management, building social support networks, and connecting to supplemental nutrition assistance programs.

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