Middle Eastern Nutritional Beliefs and Practices and How They Affect Newborn Babies
Nutrition is an important aspect of maternal and child health, especially in the first 1000 days of life, which include pregnancy and the first two years of the child’s life. During this period, the nutritional needs of both the mother and the child are high, and any deficiencies or excesses can have lasting consequences on their growth, development, and health. However, nutrition is not only influenced by physiological factors, but also by cultural beliefs and practices that vary across different regions and communities. In this blog post, we will explore some of the common nutritional beliefs and practices among Middle Eastern mothers, and how they affect their newborn babies.
Middle Eastern mothers are a diverse group of women who come from different countries, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. However, they share some common cultural values and traditions that shape their views and behaviors regarding nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some of these values and traditions are:
– Respect for elders and authority figures, such as doctors, religious leaders, and family members, who may provide advice or guidance on what to eat or avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
– Preference for natural and traditional foods and remedies, such as herbs, spices, honey, dates, nuts, seeds, dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are believed to have various benefits for the mother and the baby, such as providing energy, strength, immunity, protection from evil eye or harm, enhancing milk production or quality, preventing or curing illnesses or complications, etc.
– Avoidance of certain foods or substances that are considered harmful or taboo for the mother or the baby, such as alcohol, caffeine, pork, shellfish, certain fish (e.g., swordfish), certain vegetables (e.g., eggplant), certain fruits (e.g., watermelon), cold or raw foods or drinks (e.g., ice cream), etc. These foods or substances are believed to cause miscarriage, preterm labor, low birth weight, birth defects, infections, allergies, colic, diarrhea, etc.
– Adherence to religious dietary laws or practices that may affect food choices or availability during pregnancy and breastfeeding. For example, Muslim mothers may follow halal (permissible) and haram (forbidden) rules regarding food sources and preparation; Jewish mothers may follow kosher (fit) rules regarding food sources and separation; Christian mothers may follow fasting rules during Lent or other occasions; etc.
– Celebration of special occasions or rituals that involve food consumption or distribution during pregnancy and breastfeeding. For example,
– Muslim mothers may celebrate Eid al-Fitr (the feast of breaking the fast after Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice) by eating special dishes or sweets and sharing them with family and friends.
– Jewish mothers may celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) by eating apples dipped in honey for a sweet year; Passover by eating matzah (unleavened bread) and other symbolic foods; etc.
– Christian mothers may celebrate Christmas by eating turkey or ham and other festive foods; Easter by eating eggs or chocolate; etc.
– Many Middle Eastern mothers may celebrate the birth of their babies by distributing aqeeqah (a sacrificial lamb) or sadaqah (charity) to the poor; offering sweets such as halawet el-jibn (sweet cheese rolls) or mughli (rice pudding with nuts) to visitors; etc.
These nutritional beliefs and practices have both positive and negative effects on the health of Middle Eastern mothers and their newborn babies. On one hand,
they can provide a balanced and varied diet that meets the nutritional needs of both the mother and the baby; they can enhance the bonding between the mother
and the baby through breastfeeding; they can foster social support and emotional well-being through family and community involvement; they can reflect cultural identity
and heritage through food traditions. On the other hand,
they can lead to nutritional deficiencies or excesses that may compromise the health of both the mother
and the baby; they can interfere with evidence-based recommendations or interventions regarding nutrition during pregnancy
and breastfeeding; they can create confusion or conflict between different sources of information or advice; they can impose pressure
or stress on the mother to follow certain rules or expectations.
it is important for health care providers who work with Middle Eastern mothers to be aware of their nutritional beliefs
and practices during pregnancy
and to respect their cultural values
and preferences. However,
it is also important to provide accurate
and reliable information
and education on nutrition during pregnancy
and to address any misconceptions
or myths that may be harmful
or misleading. Moreover,
it is important to encourage Middle Eastern mothers to make informed
and individualized decisions regarding their nutrition during pregnancy
and to support them in achieving optimal health outcomes for themselves
and their newborn babies.
– Al-Bkerat, Maissa. “Nutritional Beliefs and Practices of Arabic Speaking Middle Eastern Mothers.” University of Rhode Island, 2019, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8436/bbfd20b4a02baaf7cab1d404dcc2b6f3ff98.pdf.
– Chakona, Gamuchirai. “Social Circumstances and Cultural Beliefs Influence Maternal Nutrition, Breastfeeding and Child Feeding Practices in South Africa.” Nutrition Journal, vol. 19, no. 47, 2020, https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-020-00566-4.
– “Cultural Differences in Infant Feeding.” American Academy of Pediatrics, https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/newborn-and-infant-nutrition/cultural-differences-in-infant-feeding/.
– “Cultural and Traditional Food Practices in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding.” Oxford Medicine Online, https://academic.oup.com/book/29596/chapter/249344235.
– “Muslim Birth Customs.” ADC Fetal & Neonatal Edition, vol. 84, no. 1, 2000, https://fn.bmj.com/content/84/1/F6.