Motivations for food prohibitions during pregnancy and their enforcement mechanisms in a rural Ghanaian district

Arzoaquoi SK, Essuman EE, Gbagbo FY, Tenkorang EY, Soyiri I, Laar AK (2015)



Food taboos are known from virtually all human societies and pregnant women have often been targeted. We qualitatively assessed food taboos during pregnancy, its motivating factors, and enforcement mechanisms in the Upper Manya Krobo district of Ghana.


This was an exploratory cross sectional study using qualitative focus group discussions (FGDs). Sixteen FGDs were conducted. Participants were purposively selected using the maximum variation sampling technique. Tape recorded FGDs were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using Malterudian systematic text condensation technique.


All the participants were aware of the existence of food prohibitions and beliefs targeting pregnant women in Upper Manya Krobo. The study identified snails, rats, hot foods, and animal lungs as tabooed during pregnancy. Adherence motivators included expectation of safe and timely delivery, avoidance of “monkey babies” (deformed babies); respect for ancestors, parents, and community elders. Enforcement mechanisms identified included constant reminders by parents, family members and significant others. Stigmatization and community sanctions are deployed sparingly.


Food taboos and traditional beliefs targeting pregnant women exist in Upper Manya Krobo. Pregnant women are forbidden from eating snails, rats, snakes, hot foods and animal lungs. To a large extent, socio-cultural, and to a lesser, health concerns motivate the practice.

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