Breastfeeding practices, facilitators, and barriers among immigrant Muslim Arab women living in a metropolitan area of the Southwest of United States
Scientific evidence strongly indicates that there are significant health benefits of breastfeeding. Lower breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity rates are found in vulnerable populations particularly among women of low socioeconomic status, and racial minorities such as immigrant, racial, and minority cultural groups. Breastfeeding disparities can contribute to negative health outcomes for the mothers, and their infants, and families.
Muslim Arab immigrants are a fast-growing, under-studied, and underserved minority population in the United States. Little is known about breastfeeding practices and challenges facing this vulnerable population. Immigrant Muslim Arab mothers encounter breastfeeding challenges related to religion, language, different cultural beliefs, levels of acculturation, difficulties understanding health care information, and navigating the health care system.
A cross-sectional descriptive study was used to describe infant feeding practices, and identify contributors and barriers to adequate breastfeeding using the social ecological model of health promotion. A convenience sample of 116 immigrant Muslim Arab women with at least one child, 5 years or younger was recruited from a large metropolitan area in the Southwestern United States. The results indicated that immigrant Muslim Arab mothers demonstrate high breastfeeding initiation rates (99.2%), and lengthy breastfeeding duration (M=11.86), but low rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months (21.6%). Facilitators to breastfeeding within the sample were high intentions to breastfeed, positive breastfeeding knowledge and beliefs related to the benefits of breastfeeding, religious teachings promoting breastfeeding, and encouragement to breastfeed from the mothers’ social support system. Several barriers to successful breastfeeding were related to lacking the specific knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding, and discomfort with breastfeeding in public, and in front of strangers. High income and religious teachings encouraging breastfeeding were significantly associated with exclusive breastfeeding at six months. Greater maternal age and comfort with breastfeeding in public were associated with longer breastfeeding durations.
The socio-cultural context for support of breastfeeding is an important consideration by healthcare providers caring for Muslim Arab women. An ecological perspective needs to be applied to interventions targeting breastfeeding promotion to facilitate effectiveness in this population. Culturally tailored intervention to the specific breastfeeding concerns and needs of Muslim immigrant women could promote optimal breastfeeding in this population.