Challenges and responses to infant and young child feeding in rural Rwanda: A qualitative study

Jeanine Ahishakiye*, Laura Bouwman, Inge D. Brouwer, Eric Matsiko, Margaret Armar-Klemesu, Maria Koelen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Despite different interventions to improve child nutrition conditions, chronic malnutrition is still a public health concern in Rwanda, with a high stunting prevalence of 38% among under 5-year-olds children. In Rwanda, only 18% of children aged 6-23 months are fed in accordance with the recommendations for infant and young child feeding practices. The aim of this study was to explore challenges to infant and young child feeding practices and the responses applied to overcome these challenges in Muhanga District, Southern province of Rwanda. Methods: Sixteen (16) focus group discussions were held with mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and community health workers from 4 rural sectors of Muhanga District. The discussions were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analyzed using qualitative data analysis software, Atlas.ti. Results: Two main themes emerged from the data. Firstly, there was a discourse on optimal infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices that reflects the knowledge and efforts to align with early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, as well as initiation of complementary foods at 6 months recommendations. Secondly, challenging situations against optimal practices and coping responses applied were presented in a discourse on struggling with everyday reality. The challenging situations that emerged as impeding appropriate IYCF practices included perceived lack of breast milk, infant cues, women's heavy workload, partner relations and living in poverty. Family and social support from community health workers and health facility staff, financial support through casual labor, and mothers saving and lending groups, as well as kitchen gardens, were used to cope with challenges. Conclusion: Factors influencing IYCF practices are multifaceted. Hence, intervention strategies to improve child nutrition should acknowledge the socially embedded nature of IYCF and address economic and social environmental constraints and opportunities, in addition and above knowledge only.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
JournalJournal of Health, Population and Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2019


  • Breastfeeding
  • Complementary feeding
  • Infant and young child feeding
  • Qualitative
  • Rwanda


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