College of Health and Human Services
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Kenyan Mothers With Positive Beliefs About Exclusive Breastfeeding More Likely to Continue Breastfeeding

March 10, 2016

The World Health Organization recommends that children should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, as exclusive breastfeeding can reduce infant mortality and protect against infection and disease. In Kenya, however, while exclusive breastfeeding rates have increased (61 percent in 2014), the rates are still well below the 80 percent target set for 2017.

In a new study, Constance Gewa, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and her co-author, Joan Chepkemboi of the Ministry of Health in Kisumu County, Kenya, sought to determine if there was a relationship among knowledge, outcome expectancies, and normative beliefs of exclusive breastfeeding and the premature cessation of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers in rural Kenya. The study is published in BMC Public Health.

“We know that a mother’s knowledge of recommended breastfeeding-related practices is important to her continued willingness to exclusively breastfeed,” Gewa said. “In this study, we wanted to go beyond knowledge and explore how other person- and environment-related factors also influence a mother’s choice to exclusively breastfeed.”

Study participants completed a questionnaire consisting of both closed and open-ended questions that assessed breastfeeding practices, exclusive breastfeeding-related knowledge, outcome expectancies, and social norms, as well as household socio-economic status and demographics.

The questionnaire results demonstrated that study participants’ beliefs or actions were in alignment with exclusive breastfeeding-related recommendations. Of the mothers that participated in the study, more than 68 percent were exclusively breastfeeding a child less than six months old, which is higher than the national rate of 61 percent.

The study also found that although nearly all participating mothers agreed that a newborn child should be fed breast milk exclusively, nearly 20 percent of those same mothers thought newborn children should also be given other liquids.

“The discrepancy could reflect a difference between health care provider recommendations and the mother’s cultural or social norms,” Gewa said. “Our research demonstrates that a mother’s belief about the impact of exclusive breastfeeding not only on the child, but also on the mother’s health, appearance, and social engagements, impacts whether she continues to exclusively breastfeed. By addressing these beliefs, efforts to promote exclusively breastfeeding may have a stronger impact on mothers in rural Kenya.”