“When I Breastfeed, It Feels as if my Soul Leaves the Body”: Maternal Capabilities for Healthy Child Growth in Rural Southeastern Tanzania

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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health


The burden of childhood stunting in Tanzania is persistently high, even in high food-producing regions. This calls for a paradigm shift in Child Growth Monitoring (CGM) to a multi-dimensional approach that also includes the contextual information of an individual child and her/his caregivers. To contribute to the further development of CGM to reflect local contexts, we engaged the Capability Framework for Child Growth (CFCG) to identify maternal capabilities for ensuring healthy child growth. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in Southeastern Tanzania using in-depth interviews, key informant interviews, participant observation, and focus group discussions with caregivers for under-fives. Three maternal capabilities for healthy child growth emerged: (1) being able to feed children, (2) being able to control and make decisions on farm products and income, and (3) being able to ensure access to medical care. Mothers’ capability to feed children was challenged by being overburdened by farm and domestic work, and gendered patterns in childcare. Patriarchal cultural norms restricted women’s control of farm products and decision-making on household purchases. The CFCG could give direction to the paradigm shift needed for child growth monitoring, as it goes beyond biometric measures, and considers mothers’ real opportunities for achieving healthy child growth.

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