Infant Feeding Beliefs and Practices in Islamic Societies: Focusing on Rural Turkey



Culture profoundly influences health knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, and this is particularly true of infant feeding practices. The benefits of breastfeeding to mother and the health of infants have long been known and breastfeeding is practised in Turkey. In this chapter, infant feeding practices of women living in rural areas of Turkey is described in the context of beliefs, traditions and cultural values. In Turkey nearly 1.5 million new births take place in each year and 95 percent of newborns are breastfed. Turkish mothers both in rural and in urban areas have positive opinion on breast milk. They consider breast milk as the best nutrient for infants; and according to their opinions, it should be introduced without interruption. When a mother is away from her infant, so as not to interrupt breastfeeding, another breastfeeding mother (that they call wetnurse) may continue. However, there is a wide range of beliefs, perceptions and practices in infant feeding which negatively affect appropriate breastfeeding. For example, in rural Turkey colostrum is deemed unsuitable for babies. Some also believe that babies should not be fed anything before ‘three calls to prayer (ezan)’ or that sugar water should be introduced first, before breast milk, to ‘clean’ the stomach. Exclusive breastfeeding is very rare in Turkey. Mothers supplement breast milk before 6 months by introducing liquids or solid foods. Mothers are also well aware of the contraceptive effect of breastfeeding. Some mothers prolonged breastfeeding to avoid pregnancy, controversially some of them stop to have a new baby. In rural Turkey, mothers breastfeed their infants anywhere whenever the baby needs it. This is an accepted norm and men just turn their eyes away with respect and walk away from the area. The way that mothers obtain their health-related information also affects infant feeding practices. Most often, the source of the information is older people living in the same family, but health professionals do not have the desired influence on mothers’ behaviour on infant feeding practices. For example, in the rural area of southeastern region of Turkey, nearly 60 percent of mothers are illiterate and cannot speak the official language of Turkey. Those mothers have less chance to be informed about infant feeding. Certain beliefs centre surround mothers during postpartum periods. The new mothers and their infants are vulnerable to supernatural powers. Both the woman and her baby should not be left by themselves at home, and a needle, bread, knife and onion are put under their pillows to protect them against supernatural powers. Insufficient milk appears to be the major reason for the early introduction of weaning foods. If the baby cries after breastfeeding, or if they feel that their infant is small, mothers interpret that as a result of insufficient breast milk. Mothers’ nutrition, sadness, hereditary features are the reasons shown by mothers for having insufficient breast milk.


Islamic society Southeastern region of Turkey Breastfeeding Culture Beliefs Attitudes Behaviour 


  1. Acik, Y., Dinc, E., Benli, S., & Tokdemir, M. (1999). The knowledge, attitudes of the women about breast milk and nutrition who has children aged 0 to 24 months in Elazig-Turkey.Turkish Klinikleri Journal of Pediatrics, 8, 53–62.Google Scholar
  2. Akyuz, A., Kaya, T., & Senel, N. (2007). Determination of breastfeeding behaviors of mothers and influencing factors.TAF Preventive Medicine Bulletin, 6(5), 331–335.Google Scholar
  3. Aslan, D., Ozcebe, H., Bilir, N., Vaizoglu, S., & Subasi, N. (2004). İnfant feeding practices and malnutrition in Van province.Journal of Child Health, 4(1), 16–23 (In Turkish).Google Scholar
  4. Cetin, F., Gunes, G., Karaoglu, L., & Ustun, Y. (2004). Antenatal care receival initiating of breastfeeding and influential factors among mothers who gave birth at Turgut Ozal Medical Center.Journal of Inonu University, 12(4), 247–252.Google Scholar
  5. Davies-Adetugba, A. A. (1997). Sociocultural factors and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding in rural Yoruba communities of Osun State Nigeria.Social Science and Medicine, 45(1), 113–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Eker, A., & Yurdakul, M. (2006). The knowledge and practices of mothers related to baby feeding and breastfeeding.STED (Surekli Tip Egitimi Dergisi), 15(9), 158–163.Google Scholar
  7. Ergenekon, P. O., Elmaci, N., Ertem, M., & Saka, G. (2006). Breastfeeding beliefs and practices among migrant mothers in slums of Diyarbakir, in Turkey, 2001.The European Journal of Public Health, 16(2), 143–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ertem, I. O., Kaynak, G., Kaynak, C., & Ulukal, B. (2001). Attitudes and practices of breastfeeding mothers regarding fasting in Ramadan.Child Care Health and Development, 27(6), 545–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Geckil, E., Sahin, T., & Ege, E. (2009). Traditional post partum practices of women and infant and the factors influencing such practices in South East Turkey.Midwifery, 25(1), 62–71.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gokdemirel, S., Gokcay, G., Bulut, A., & Atlan, A. (2007). The effect of Ramadan fasting on breastfeeding.Journal of Child Health, 7(3), 177–181 (In Turkish).Google Scholar
  11. Hawwas, A. W. (1987). Breastfeeding as seen by Islam.Population Science, 7, 55–58.Google Scholar
  12. Irgil, E., Akis, N., Aydin, N., & Aytekin, N. (2003). Breastfeeding of infants in Gemlik. InNational Maternal and Child Health Congress Book (p. 324). Ankara-Turkey: Ankara University Tip Fakultesi (In Turkish).Google Scholar
  13. Koc, I. (2003). Increased cesarean section rates in Turkey.European Journal of Contraception Reproduction Health Care, 8(1), 1–10.Google Scholar
  14. Kocturk, T. O. (2002). Food rules in the Koran.Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, 46(3), 137–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kramer, M. S., & Kakuma, R. (2002).The optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: A systematic review. WHO/NHD/01.08, WHO/FCH/CAH/01.23. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  16. Kutlu, R., & Marakoglu, K. (2006). Evaluation of initiating, continuing, and weaning time of breastfeeding.Marmara Medical Journal, 19(3), 121–126.Google Scholar
  17. Libbus, K., Bush, T. A., & Hockman, N. M. (1997). Breastfeeding beliefs of low income primigravidae.International Journal of Nurse Study, 34(2), 144–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Şahin, N. N. (1996).The beliefs in İkiyamac village, Taşlıcay district of the City of Ağrı on pregnancy and birth and the impacts of these on mother and babies health. Unpublished Master of Science Thesis, Hacettepe University Social Science Institute, Ankara, Turkey.Google Scholar
  19. Saka, G., Ertem, M., Musayeva, A., Ceylan, A., & Kocturk, T. (2005). Breastfeeding patterns, beliefs and attitudes among Kurdish mothers in Diyarbakir, Turkey.Acta Paediatrica, 94(9), 1303–1309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Samli, G., Kara, B., Unalan, P. C., Samli, B., Sarper, N., & Gokalp, A. S. (2006). Knowledge, beliefs and practices of mothers about breastfeeding and infant nutrition: A qualitative study.Marmara Medical Journal, 19(1), 13–20.Google Scholar
  21. Santur, M. E. (2005). Birth traditions. Retrieved 20 December 2006, from
  22. Shaikh, U., & Ahmed, O. (2006). Islam and infant feeding.Breastfeed Medicine, 1(3), 164–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Smith, L. J. (2007). Impact of birthing practices on the breastfeeding dyad.Journal of Midwifery Womens Health, 52, 621–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Stewart-Knox, B., Gardiner, K., & Wright, M. (2003). What is the problem with breastfeeding? A qualitative analysis of infant feeding perception.Journal of Human Nutrition and Diet, 16(4), 217–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tuncbilek, E., Kurtulus, E., & Hancioglu, A. (1999).Nutrition of infants, children and mothers. Turkish National Health Survey 1998 (pp. 123–132). Ankara, Turkey: UNPF, Population Inst. Hacettepe University, Macro Int. Inc.Google Scholar
  26. Tuncel, K. E., Dundar, C., Canbaz, S., & Peksen, Y. (2006). Research on breastfeeding status of children aged 0–24 months applied to a University Hospital.Journal of CU Nursing Faculty, 10(1), 1–6.Google Scholar
  27. Unalan, P. C., Akgun, T., Ciftci, S., Boler, I., & Akman, M. (2008). Why do mothers attending a baby friendly mother and child health care unit start early solid food to their babies?Turkish Archive of Pediatrics, 43, 59–64.Google Scholar
  28. Unsal, H., Atlıhan, F., Ozkan, H., Targon, S., & Hassoy, H. (2005). Breastfeeding attitudes and behavior in Turkish community and factors effecting breastfeeding practices.Journal of Children Health Diseases, 48(3), 226–233.Google Scholar
  29. Vancelik, S., Sanci, N., Acemoglu, H., & Beyhun, E. (2006). Behaviors of mothers regarding breastfeeding. InNational Public Health Congress Book (p. 7), Van-Turkey (In Turkish).Google Scholar
  30. World Health Organization Secretariat (2002). Infant and young child nutrition: Global strategy on infant and young child feeding, Resolution WHA55/15. Geneva: World Health Organization. (Accessed 25 Sept 2003).
  31. Yigit, E. K., & Tezcan, S. (2003).Infant feeding behavior and nutritional status of children: Turkish National Health Survey 2003 (pp. 141–55). Ankara, Turkey: Population Research Institute of Hacettepe University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public HealthFaculty of Medicine, Dicle UniversityDiyarbakirTurkey

Personalised recommendations