Mrs Ellen Kendall
(email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Impact of Breastfeeding on Frailty in Early Medieval English Communities
Feeding practices are one of the most important factors in the health and mortality of infants and young children, with sub-optimal or absent breastfeeding contributing to millions of deaths annually. Recent research is beginning to suggest that there may be transmission of factors imparting active (stimulation of the infant’s own immune system) as well as passive immunity, whose effects continue significantly even beyond the discontinuation of breastfeeding. The timing of introduction of supplementary foods to the infant diet is of equally vital importance to health: excessively early introduction of solids leads to a rise in mortality. Conversely, overly late introduction of supplementary foods may represent a risk of anaemia, malnutrition, and a weakened defence against pathogenic infection introduced by weaning foods once they are introduced.
Previous archaeological studies have overlooked the immunological benefits of breastfeeding and have neglected to integrate isotopic evidence with wider archaeological and environmental data to evaluate health impacts of breastfeeding in past environments. These factors, such as climate, topography, community size, mobility, and subsistence strategy must be considered as contributory and challenging to early childhood health. Breastfeeding represents a biocultural activity with profound lifelong implications for health and the generational transmission of tradition, and it is important to recognise the past as a vital source of information about the interaction between biology and culture. This study will examine infant and early childhood nutrition in two past environmental settings – using carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes in addition strontium/calcium ratios in adult and subadult human remains – to understand its impact on health and mortality.