Prenatal infant feeding intentions and actual feeding practices during the first six months postpartum in rural Rwanda: A qualitative, longitudinal cohort study

Jeanine Ahishakiye*, Laura Bouwman, Inge D. Brouwer, Lenneke Vaandrager, Maria Koelen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is advocated by the WHO for the first 6 months. In Rwanda, the percentage of infants who are exclusively breastfed decreases from 94% among infants aged 0-1 month to 81% among those aged 4-5 months. Little is known about what influences mothers' breastfeeding practices. This study aimed to gain insights into expectant mothers' prenatal feeding intentions, the underlying reasons, actual practices after birth, and factors facilitating or impeding EBF for the first 6 months of a child's life in Muhanga District, Rwanda. Methods: This qualitative longitudinal study, conducted between December 2016 and October 2017 as part of a larger study, recruited a purposive sample of 39 pregnant women attending prenatal consultations during their last trimester in two rural health centers. Women were interviewed during pregnancy, within the first week after birth and at 4 and 6 months postpartum to explore intentions, actual practices, critical transition points, and facilitating or impeding factors. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed thematically. Results: Of the 39 participants, 38 intended to breastfeed within the first hour after birth, and 32 intended to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. In practice, 34 initiated breastfeeding within the first hour, and 12 breastfed exclusively for 6 months. Impeding factors include perceived breastmilk insufficiency, pressure from family members, past experiences, mothers' concerns over their infants' health, mothers' heavy workload, poverty and food insecurity. Factors facilitating early initiation and EBF include mothers' awareness of EBF's advantages, confidence in their breastfeeding ability, and support from health professionals and family members. Conclusion: Despite participants' intentions about breastfeeding, there was a gap between intentions and actual practices. An interplay of barriers at individual, group and societal levels impeded women from EBF for the first 6 months. EBF promotion interventions should consider supporting and equipping breastfeeding mothers with skills to deal with perceived breastmilk insufficiency and to recognize the true signs of baby hunger cues. Furthermore, important influential family and community members should be targeted to support mothers to breastfeed. Interventions that consider addressing the issue of poverty-driven food insecurity should not be overlooked either

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
JournalInternational Breastfeeding Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2020


  • Barriers
  • Breastfeeding intentions
  • Child nutrition
  • Exclusive breastfeeding
  • Facilitators
  • Qualitative research


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