n Institute of African Studies Research Review - Ghost mothers and wet nurses : breast feeding practices and care of children in crisis in Ellembelle Nzema




This paper is based on case studies collected in Ellembelle Nzema during an ethnographic study of orphans and their carers. It examines some of the cultural norms, practices and relationships that govern breastfeeding in the society. The attitudes and practices are socially determined and breastfeeding has to be seen as an essential element that intersects with the cultural construction of sexuality. The main focus is what happens when a crisis occurs and the biological mother dies and is no longer available to nurse her infant. The paper points to a long period of complementary breastfeeding in Ellembelle, supported by milk enhancing practices to preserve the integrity of infant nurture and healthy growth. The role of breastfeeding as a birth spacing mechanism is also highlighted in the paper, with illustrations from traditional Ellembelle lore and practices.


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