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

Chapter

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Islamic society Southeastern region of Turkey Breastfeeding Culture Beliefs Attitudes Behaviour 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

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

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