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Understanding early complementary food practice in rural Indonesia: a qualitative study

02 July 2022
19 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 7



Almost all cases of stunting occur in developing countries and could be prevented through exclusive breastfeeding. However, as a result of cultural beliefs, early complementary food practices are widely practiced in Indonesia. This study explored cultural beliefs related to early complementary food practices in rural areas of Indonesia.


This ethnographic study involved 16 key and six general participants. Data were collected via focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, observations, and field notes, and then thematically analysed.


Four themes emerged: reasons for early complementary feeding, the idea of ‘the sooner the better’, types of complementary food and influencing people.


Using policymakers to provide culturally sensitive and evidence-based health information involving grandmothers and traditional birth attendants may help prevent early complementary feeding and improve exclusive breastfeeding rates.

Stunting is an impairment related to a child's development as a result of malnutrition, repeated infections or lack of social stimulation during early years. It is indicated by poor linear growth, shown in a height-for-age-Z score ≤-2 standard deviations from the World Health Organization's (WHO, 2015) child growth standard median. Stunting is a major health problem (Hall et al, 2018; Alam et al, 2020) that commonly occurs in developing countries (WHO, 2018). More than half of stunted children are Asian (United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) et al, 2018), and Indonesia is among the top three countries in the South East Asia Region with the highest prevalence (WHO, 2018). In 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the prevalence of stunted children younger than 5 years was 37.2%, 29%, 27.5% and 29.6% respectively (National Institute of Health Research and Development, 2018; UNICEF Indonesia, 2018).

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