A survey of mothers in rural Uganda has shown that, among a range of resources available to them, social support is the strongest predictor of sufficient nutrition for their infants.
The survey involving 195 mothers took place in 10 communities in Bundibugyo District in western Uganda, a low-income rural area where undernutrition is widespread. 22% of women receive no education in this region. 67% of the mothers in the survey had had a baby at 16 years old or before. 38.5% of them were from polygynous households. 45% of the mothers were caring for five or more children. 50% of the children were stunted.
The survey looked at four measures of maternal resources:
- Social support. For example, help from her family, help from friends, being able to count on others when things go wrong, having a special person who provides comfort, the ability to discuss problems with the family.
- Psychological well-being. The mothers were asked to rate their satisfaction with things like food, housing, income, work, safety, freedom from violence, dignity, ability to help others and freedom to express spiritual beliefs.
- Decision-making agency. The mothers rated statements about how her opinions were respected in the household, whether she felt confident in making good choices for her children, whether she felt she had control over her family size and the timing of her pregnancies.
- Overall freedom/empowerment. The mothers were asked to place themselves on a 10-step scale between no control / free choice at all and absolutely choice and control. They were asked to do this for today, five years ago and where they would be in a year’s time.
Infant nutrition was measured by four measures specified by the World Health Organisation: meal frequency, dietary diversity, iron rich foods and minimum acceptable diet.
The strongest predictor of better infant nutrition was social support. This predicted higher scores on all four infant nutrition measures.
68% of the mothers agreed they knew someone who is around in times of need and 70% said they had someone who cares about their feelings. 54% of the mothers reported their families were trying to help them out. 58% said they could discuss problems with their families. 49% of the mothers said they had friends who were trying to help them.
The other indicator that was linked to better nutrition was freedom/empowerment, though to a lesser extent than social support.
The study points to the need to develop family and social support for mothers in low resource settings in order to improve infant nutrition.
Ickes SB, Wu M, Mandel MP & Roberts AC (2017), Associations between social support, psychological well-being, decision making, empowerment, infant and young child feeding, and nutritional status in Ugandan children ages 0 to 24 months, Maternal Child Nutrition
Photo: Trust for Africas Orphans (TAO). Creative Commons.