Aim: To investigate mothers’ perceptions of breastfeeding and influences from their social network.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was carried out in Mangochi district, Malawi where questionnaire data from 157 rural and 192 semi-urban mother–infant pairs were obtained.
Results: The proportion of mothers who thought that exclusive breastfeeding should last for 6 months and those who reported to have actually exclusively breastfed were 40.1% and 7.5% respectively. Of those who reported practising exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, 77.5% stated that exclusive breastfeeding should last for 6 months. This opinion was independently associated with giving birth in a Baby-Friendly facility, OR = 5.22; 95% CI (1.92–14.16). Among the mothers who thought that exclusive breastfeeding should last for less than 6 months, 43.9% reported having been influenced in their opinion by health workers. Infant crying was the most common (62.4%) reason for stopping exclusive breastfeeding.
Conclusion: The findings illustrate the positive impact health workers can have, as well as the need to raise awareness of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding among both health workers and mothers. Furthermore, continued counselling of mothers on how to deal with stressful infant behaviour such as crying may assist to prolong exclusive breastfeeding.