An Ecological Perspective of Breastfeeding in an Indigenous Community


  • Funded by The National Institute of Nursing Research 1F31-NR07211-01, Sigma Theta Tau International Research Grant & Zeta Chapter, Sigma Theta Tau International Research Award. The authors thank Janice M. Morse, PhD for her contributions during the planning stages of this work.

Dr. Dodgson, Duke University, School of Nursing, Box 3322 Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710. E-mail:


Purpose: To describe the sociocultural patterns that promote breastfeeding or weaning in the Ojibwe community, which has very low breastfeeding rates compared to the general population.

Design: A focused ethnographic approach with an ecological framework provided community level data. Semi-structured interviews (N=52) were conducted in an urban Ojibwe community and with three groups of women: health or social service providers, women currently breastfeeding, or people who acted as resources.

Methods: Data were analyzed using an ethnographic approach. Group summaries were compiled and community-level patterns were identified.

Findings: Four patterns were identified that encompassed the influences of (a) Ojibwe and mainstream cultures (traditions), (b) communication-related barriers from a variety of sources (mixed messages), (c) socioeconomic issues (life circumstances) and (d) social support (nurturing and supporting).

Conclusions: The values and practices of the studied group were not always congruent with those of the larger mainstream culture. Successful breastfeeding promotion and intervention programs based on culturally relevant perspectives are needed.