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Keywords:

  • breastfeeding;
  • exclusive breastfeeding;
  • cultural characteristics;
  • cultural diversity;
  • United Republic of Cameroon;
  • Cameroon;
  • infant nutrition;
  • child nutrition;
  • HIV

Because of the known nutritional and health benefits to the infant, the World Health Organization recommends that women in resource-poor countries exclusively breastfeed until their babies reach 6 months of age. In the primarily rural geographical region of the North West Province of Cameroon, previous studies identified the prevalence of breastfeeding to be 90%. It is common knowledge that women are culturally encouraged to mix-feed their infants, but the extent of these feeding practices is not known. The objective of this study was to identify the extent of mixed feeding/supplementation and the cultural/social barriers to exclusive breastfeeding. All women surveyed introduced water and food supplementation prior to 6 months of age, with more than 38% giving water in the first month of life. Mothers identified cultural factors influencing their decision to mix-feed their babies, which included 1) pressures by village elders and families to supplement because it is a traditional practice, 2) belief that breast milk is an incomplete food that does not increase the infants weight, 3) belief that all family members should receive the benefit of food grown in the family farm, and 4) the taboo of prohibiting sexual contact during breastfeeding.