Food beliefs and practices among the Kalenjin pregnant women in rural Uasin Gishu County, Kenya
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Background: Understanding food beliefs and practices is critical to the development of dietary recommendations, nutritional programmes, and educational messages. This study aimed to understand the pregnancy food beliefs and practices and the underlying reasons for these among the contemporary rural Kalenjin communities of Uasin Gishu County, Kenya. Methods: Through semi-structured interviews, data was collected from 154 pregnant and post-natal Kalenjin women about restricted and recommended foods, and why they are restricted or recommended during pregnancy. Respondents were purposively selected (based on diversity) from those attending Maternal and Child Health (MCH) care in 23 rural public health facilities. Key informant interviews (n = 9) with traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) who were also herbalists, community health workers, and nursing officers in charge of MCH were also conducted. Quantitative data was analysed using SPSS software. Data from respondents who gave consent to be tape recorded (n = 42) was transcribed and qualitatively analysed using MAXQDA software. Results: The restriction of animal organs specifically the tongue, heart, udder and male reproductive organs, meat and eggs, and the recommendation of traditional green vegetables and milk was reported by more than 60% of the respondents. Recommendation of fruits, traditional herbs, ugali (a dish made of maize flour, millet flour, or Sorghum flour, sometimes mixed with cassava flour), porridge and liver, and restriction of avocadoes and oily food were reported by more than 20% of the respondents. The reasons for observing these dietary precautions were mainly fears of: big foetuses, less blood, lack of strength during birth, miscarriages or stillbirths, and maternal deaths as well as child’s colic and poor skin conditions after birth. Conclusion: Pregnancy food beliefs were widely known and practised mainly to protect the health of the mother and child, and ensuring successful pregnancy outcome. Given the deep-rooted nature of the beliefs, it is advisable that when nutritious foods are restricted, nutritional interventions should rather search for alternative sources of nutrition which are available and considered to be appropriate for pregnancy. On the other hand, nutritional advice that does not address these health concerns and assumptions that underlie successful pregnancy and delivery is unlikely to be effective.
Food beliefs, Taboos, Maternal and child health, Kalenjin, Kenya, Pregnancy complications, Nutritional interventions