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Keywords:

  • infant nutrition;
  • breastfeeding;
  • infant formula;
  • health promotion;
  • health knowledge;
  • attitudes;
  • practice;
  • physician-patient relations;
  • cultural competency;
  • focus groups;
  • Somali

Abstract

The objective of this study was to explore Somali mothers' beliefs and practices around infant feeding and education, towards developing a culturally informed infant nutrition curriculum for health providers. Four focus groups were conducted to explore: (1) beliefs about infant feeding, hunger and ideal weight; (2) feeding practices; (3) nutrition education approaches; and (4) provider/mother interactions. Thirty-seven Somali mother participants identified the following themes within these topics: (1) strategies for assessing hunger, satiety and when to feed; shared beliefs that plump babies are healthy, leading to worry about infant weight; (2) context of breast milk adequacy, difficulties breastfeeding and environmental and cultural barriers to breastfeeding, leading to nearly universal early supplementation with formula; (3) preferred education approaches include provider visits with interpreters, Somali language educational materials and advice from older, experienced family members; and (4) desired health provider skills include: listening, explaining, empathy, addressing specific concerns, repeating important information, offering preventive advice and sufficient visit time. This study presents knowledge about Somali beliefs and practices that can directly guide discussions with these families. Given that these infants appear on a trajectory towards obesity, influencing infant feeding practices in the Somali community is a good upstream approach to preventing obesity. These findings will underpin a new infant nutrition curriculum for health providers.