Feeding Practices in Eastern Africa June 22, 2012Posted by ellaweber in Individual Fellowship, Uganda.
Tags: breastfeeding, HIV/AIDS transmission, mixed feeding, Uganda
In mid-July, I’ll be trading my home in Ann Arbor for Iganga, a town of about 50,000 people in Eastern Uganda. For a month and a half, I’ll be working with the local hospital, healers, community members, and Uganda Village Project on HIV/AIDS transmission via breastfeeding. All this started last fall when I wrote a mock grant proposal as an assignment for an anthropology course I was taking. I started out researching tradition and breastfeeding but kept running into articles about mother-to-child transmission. I began to wonder how this fit together with traditional infant feeding practices in sub-Saharan Africa. The more I read, the more I realized the answer was “not very well.”
As it turns out, in Third World countries exclusive breastfeeding is actually the safest way to nourish an infant for 3-6 months, despite the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. Many women in Eastern Africa, however, practice mixed feedings. This involves substitutes such as water, sugar-water, and other traditional beverages used for traditional and cultural reasons. These practices are deeply rooted in many societies, which make them hard to change, but can actually double the likelihood of transmission. Different organizations have recently set up peer counseling centers where pregnant women can receive advice and support during and after their pregnancy, but many of these programs are still developing. While a lot of work has been done to look at feeding choices based on education, employment, marital status, and other factors, I’m most interested in the role of tradition. Is someone practicing mixed feedings out of a religious belief? Advice from friends? The example of their mother? From my research, it is my belief that the best way to understand feeding choices and raise awareness about the effectiveness of exclusive breastfeeding is to first understand the traditional and cultural reasons for practicing mixed feeding. During my time in Uganda, I’ll keep my blog updated on my experience, and what I’m learning from listening to mothers, husbands, doctors, and healers talk about their decisions and reasoning.
As a final note, I want to thank the International Institute at the University of Michigan for providing me with this fantastic opportunity. I am grateful for their trust and support.