Beliefs and Norms Influencing Initiation and Sustenance of Exclusive Breastfeeding: Experiences of Mothers in Primary Health Care Facilities in Ermelo, South Africa

Perpetua Modjadji*, Ethel Sekori Seabela, Busisiwe Ntuli, Sphiwe Madiba

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is not a norm in many communities in South Africa despite the World Health Organizations’ recommendations for EBF in the first six months of infant’s life. Thus, South Africa continues to observe suboptimal and poor practices of EBF. The purpose of the study was to explore the experiences of mothers who are HIV-positive and negative on EBF and examine the extent to which initiation and sustenance of EBF is influenced by cultural beliefs, societal norms, and family norms and practices in Mpumalanga Province. Three focus group discussions and twelve in-depth interviews were conducted among thirty mothers who were purposively selected during their visits to the facilities for childcare services. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and transcripts were analysed through thematic analysis using NVivo version 10. Mothers were aged between 18 and 42 years, most were unemployed and were living in poor sociodemographic backgrounds in extended family households. We found evidence of factors that influence the decision to EBF and mix feed infants among mothers. Traditional and cultural beliefs and norms that exist within their communities informed decisions mothers took to EBF. These beliefs existed alongside mothers’ opinions on breastfeeding (BF) and HIV infection, as well as the fears of harming the baby through HIV infection, leading to early cessation of BF. Mothers were also advised by family members, friends, and even some healthcare workers to use traditional medicines while BF. The association of EBF with sagging breasts and weight loss as well as discomfort with public BF are personal beliefs that influenced initiation and early cessation of EBF. Breastfeeding messages ought to be context specific to improve the knowledge, understanding, acceptance and practice of EBF among HIV-positive and negative mothers. Culturally appropriate counselling messages that address the known cultural practices of the populations affected are essential to changing the beliefs and norms of the communities including extended families of EBF mothers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1513
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume20
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • Ermelo
  • South Africa
  • exclusive breastfeeding
  • lived experience
  • mothers
  • primary health facilities
  • views

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