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Keywords:

  • breastfeeding;
  • ethnography;
  • immigrant;
  • refugee;
  • Canada

Abstract

The aim of this study was to explore from the Middle-Eastern mothers’ perspective, the experience of breastfeeding and their perceptions of attributes of the health care system, community and society on their feeding decisions after migration to Canada. New immigrant mothers from the Middle East (n = 22) were recruited from community agencies in Edmonton, Canada. Qualitative data were collected through four focus groups using an ethnographic approach to guide concurrent data collection and analysis. Survey data were collected on socio-demographic characteristics via pre-tested questionnaires. All mothers, but one who was medically exempt, breastfed their infants from birth and intended to continue for at least 2 years. Through constant comparison of data, five layers of influence emerged which described mothers’ process of decision making: culture/society, community, health care system, family/friends and mother–infant dyad. Religious belief was an umbrella theme that was woven throughout all discussions and it was the strongest determining factor for choosing to breastfeed. However, cultural practices promoted pre-lacteal feeding and hence, jeopardising breastfeeding exclusivity. Although contradicted in Islamic tradition, most mothers practised fasting during breastfeeding because of misbeliefs about interpretations regarding these rules. Despite high rates of breastfeeding, there is a concern of lack of breastfeeding exclusivity among Middle-Eastern settlers in Canada. To promote successful breastfeeding in Muslim migrant communities, interventions must occur at different levels of influence and should consider religious beliefs to ensure cultural acceptability. Practitioners may support exclusive breastfeeding through cultural competency, and respectfully acknowledging Islamic beliefs and cultural practices.