Women’s status and child nutrition : Findings from community studies in Bangladesh and Nicaragua

Abstract: The importance of women’s status for child nutrition has recently been recognized. However, pathways through which women’s status can affect their caretaking practices and child nutrition have not been fully determined. The aim of this thesis was to evaluate associations between aspects of women’s status – including exposure to domestic violence and level of autonomy and social support – with their level of stress, feeding practices and child nutritional status in two different cultural settings: Bangladesh and Nicaragua.Data were acquired from population-based studies. For Study I we used data from the Bangladesh 2007 Demographic and Health Survey, and Study II was embedded in the 2009 Health and Demographic Surveillance System conducted in Los Cuatro Santos, rural Nicaragua. Studies III and IV were part of the MINIMat study, conducted in rural Bangladesh. In-person interviews were conducted and validated questionnaires were used in each of the studies. Anthropometric characteristics of the children were recorded based on standardized World Health Organization techniques.In Bangladesh, we found women with lifetime experience of domestic violence to be more likely to report emotional distress during pregnancy, cease exclusive breastfeeding before 6 months and have a stunted child. Further, we found a negative association between experience of domestic violence and duration of excusive breastfeeding to be mitigated with breastfeeding counseling. In Nicaragua, a lower level of maternal autonomy was associated with more appropriate breastfeeding practices such as higher odds of exclusive breastfeeding and longer continuation of breastfeeding. Further, a maternal lower level of social support was associated with better child nutritional status.In conclusion, this investigation showed that different dimensions of women’s status were associated with their feeding practices and child nutritional status and also revealed that the strength and direction of these associations may vary by the child’s age, setting and other contextual factors. These findings suggest that women’s status might have an important public health impact on child health and its role should be considered in programs and policies aiming to improve child health and nutrition.