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Malnutrition among infants aged below 6 months has been largely overlooked creating gaps in our understanding of factors underlying stunting in early infancy. Recent evidence suggests that pre-natal and early childhood factors may contribute more to driving childhood stunting than previously appreciated. The study was set up to examine pathways including parental and household characteristics, birth size and gestation, and illness in infancy with stunting at birth and months 3, 6 and 12 using an a priori hypothesized framework. It was a secondary analysis of a birth cohort of 1017 infants recruited from four health facilities in Burkina Faso and followed up for one year. Structural equation models (SEM) were generated to explore pathways to stunting at birth and months 3, 6 and 12. The prevalence of being stunted at birth and months 3, 6 and 12 was 7.4%, 23%, 20% and 18% respectively. The fractions of month 12 stunting attributable to being stunted at birth, months 3 and 6 were 11% (95%CI 5.0‒16%), 32% (95%CI 22‒41%) and 40% (95%CI 31‒49%) respectively. In the structural equation model, male sex and maternal characteristics had direct effects on stunting at birth and at 3 months, but not subsequently. Premature birth, twin birth and being stunted at a previous time point were directly associated with stunting at months 3, 6 and 12. Both maternal and paternal characteristics were directly associated with preterm birth. Non-exclusive breastfeeding had borderline positive direct effect on stunting at month 6 but not at month 12. The direct and indirect pathways identified in this study highlight the complex interlinks between child, maternal, paternal and household characteristics. Interventions tackling preterm birth, in utero growth, exclusive breastfeeding and maternal wellbeing may reduce stunting in the first year of life.

Original publication




Journal article


PLOS Glob Public Health

Publication Date