Perceptions related to breastfeeding and the early introduction of complementary foods amongst migrants in Cape Town, South Africa

Journal Article


Journal Title

International Breastfeeding Journal

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

BioMed Central


University of Cape Town

Background: Infant feeding recommendations are of health importance, yet the extent to which migrant communities in low- and middle-income countries know or implement these recommendations is poorly understood. This study explores the perspectives of infant feeding amongst cross-border migrants in Cape Town, South Africa. Methods: Between February and October 2013, semi-structured in-depth interviews (n = 23) were conducted face-to-face with Congolese, Somali and Zimbabwean mothers living in Cape Town. To assess commonly identified narratives of infant feeding, nine focus group discussions (three with men and six with women) were conducted with migrant Somalis, Congolese, and Zimbabweans. Results: Three dominant themes framed infant feeding. 1) Pragmatism in feeding choices drove responses to baby’s cues, including cries, sleeping patterns, and weight gain (2). Formula feeding was normative in the South African context, whereas lack of commercial infant milk back home was described in terms of expense (3). Low rates of breastfeeding were explained in terms of work responsibilities including household work and lack of breastmilk supply resulting from stress and poor diet. However, women participants typically did not consider their feeding choices to negatively affect their baby’s health. Conclusions: The reasons for early introduction of both commercial infant milk and solid foods were complex. Breastfeeding was not prioritized despite an awareness of medical recommendations. Rather than emphasizing specific breastfeeding intentions, participants favoured an approach that reacted to their baby’s perceived changing needs. The practical challenges of breastfeeding described by cross-border migrant women reflect one way in which socio-economic and health inequalities may currently be perpetuated for marginalised populations.