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Perceptions of the Role of Maternal Nutrition in HIV-Positive Breast-Feeding Women in Malawi


Bentley, Margaret E.; Corneli, Amy L.; Piwoz, Ellen G.; Moses, Agnes; Nkhoma, Jacqueline R.; Tohill, Beth Carlton; Ahmed, Yusuf; Adair, Linda S.; Jamieson, Denise J.; & van der Horst, Charles M. (2005). Perceptions of the Role of Maternal Nutrition in HIV-Positive Breast-Feeding Women in Malawi. Journal of Nutrition, 135(4), 945-949.


A neglected issue in the literature on maternal nutrition and HIV is how HIV-positive women perceive their own bodies, health, and well-being, particularly in light of their infection, and whether these perceptions influence their infant feeding practices and their perceived ability to breast-feed exclusively through 6 mo. We conducted formative research to better understand breast-feeding practices and perceptions, and to inform the Breastfeeding, Antiretroviral, and Nutrition (BAN) Study, a clinical trial to evaluate antiretroviral and nutrition interventions to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV during breast-feeding in Lilongwe, Malawi. Twenty-two HIV-positive women living in semirural areas on the periphery of Lilongwe participated in in-depth interviews. In an adaptation of the body-silhouette methodology, nine culturally appropriate body silhouettes, representing a continuum of very thin to very large shapes, were used to elicit women’s views on their present, previous-year, and preferred body shapes, and on the shape they perceived as healthy. The narrative scenario method was also used to explore women’s views on 2 fictional women infected with HIV and their ability to exclusively breast-feed. Women perceived larger body shapes as healthy, because fatness is considered a sign of good health and absence of disease, and many recognized the role of nutrition in achieving a preferred or healthy body shape. Several women believed their nutritional status (body size) was declining because of their illness. Women were concerned that breast-feeding may increase the progression of HIV, suggesting that international guidelines to promote appropriate infant feeding practices for infants whose mothers are infected with HIV should focus on the mother’s health and well-being, as well as the infant’s.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Nutrition


Bentley, Margaret E.
Corneli, Amy L.
Piwoz, Ellen G.
Moses, Agnes
Nkhoma, Jacqueline R.
Tohill, Beth Carlton
Ahmed, Yusuf
Adair, Linda S.
Jamieson, Denise J.
van der Horst, Charles M.