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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Perceptions of caregivers about health and nutritional problems and feeding practices of infants: a qualitative study on exclusive breast-feeding in Kwale, Kenya

Akiko Matsuyama1*, Mohamed Karama2, Junichi Tanaka3 and Satoshi Kaneko3

Author affiliations

1 School of International Health Development, Nagasaki University, Nagasaki, Japan

2 Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR), Kenya Medical Research Institute, (KEMRI), Kenya

3 Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nagasaki University, Nagasaki, Japan

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:525  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-525

Published: 30 May 2013



Despite the significant positive effect of exclusive breast-feeding on child health, only 32% of children under 6 months old were exclusively breast-fed in Kenya in 2008. The aim of this study was to explore perceptions and feeding practices of caregivers of children under 6 months old with special attention to the caregivers’ indigenous knowledge, perceptions about the health and nutritional problems of their infants, and care-seeking behaviors that affect feeding practices.


The study was exploratory and used an inductive approach. In all, 32 key informants, including mothers, mothers-in-law, and traditional healers, were interviewed in-depth. The number of participants in free-listing of perceived health problems of babies, in ranking of the perceived severity of these health problems, and in free-listing of food and drink given to children under 6 months old were 29, 28, and 32, respectively. Additionally, 28 babies under 6 months old were observed at home with regard to feeding practices. Data obtained using these methods were triangulated to formulate an ethnomedical explanatory model for mothers who do not practice exclusive breast-feeding.


The informants stated that various types of food, drink, and medicine were given to infants under 6 months old. Direct observation also confirmed that 2- to 3-month-old babies were given porridge, water, juice, herbal medicine, and over-the-counter medicine. Mothers’ perceptions of insufficient breast milk production and a lack of proper knowledge about the value of breast milk were identified in key informant interviews, free-listing, and ranking as important factors associating with the use of food and drink other than breast milk; in addition, perceived ill health of babies appears to be associated with suboptimal practice of exclusive breast-feeding. Caregivers used various folk and popular medicines from the drugstore, their own backyard or garden, and traditional healers so that the mother or child would not be exposed to perceived risks during the vulnerable period after birth.


Mothers should be advised during their antenatal and postnatal care about exclusive breast-feeding. This should be done not as a single vertical message, but in relation to their concerns about the health and nutritional problems of their babies.

Exclusive breast-feeding; Local etiology; Insufficient breast milk; Qualitative study