In order to successfully address child undernutrition, effective childcare must be provided, and this is dependent upon the mother having access to resources, and the knowledge and skills needed to prepare and feed their child.  Gabbs and colleagues conducted a study to determine which underlying characteristics of mothers would influence her ability to provide high-quality childcare.  The characteristics included in the analysis were physical and mental health, social support, time, decision-making autonomy, gender norm attitudes, and mothering self-efficacy.  Results from their study are reported in the March 2021 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Maternal capabilities were determined in 4667 pregnant women enrolled in the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy trial in which improved child-care practices were promoted for 18 months postpartum.  Data was derived from surveys, direct observation and health records.

More egalitarian gender norm attitudes were associated with greater likelihood of institutional delivery, early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 3 months and from 3-6 months.  When provided information on sanitation and hygiene there was an increase in availability of soap and water at a handwashing station.  Time stress led to lower likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 3 months.  Institutional delivery was also enhanced by greater social support but was reduced in depressed mothers, who were also less likely to fully immunize their child.  Instructions on complimentary feeding led to a minimally diverse diet in children.  The authors suggest that reducing maternal depression, time stress, inadequate social support systems, and inequitable gender norms may lead to improved maternal child caregiving.

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In a commentary on this article, Black and Kowalski, noted that mothers’ egalitarian gender attitudes were positively associated with 5 of 7 caregiving behaviors, which is greater than any other maternal capabilities.  They conclude by providing 4 recommendations to promote women’s empowerment in those factors associated with child caregiving.  Those were to: 1) provide access to secondary education; 2) improve measures of women’s empowerment and have better measures of gender equality; 3) continue observations of mechanisms linking maternal empowerment to caregiving behaviors that promote child health; and 4) promote policies and systems that support gender equality.


Matare CR, Mbuya MNN, Dickin KL, Constas MA, Pelto G, Chasekwa B, et al.  Maternal capabilities are associated with child caregiving behaviors among women in rural Zimbabwe.  The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 3, March 2021, Pages 685–694,

Black MM, Kowalski AJ. Women’s empowerment promotes children thriving globally. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 3, March 2021, Pages 455–456,