Stigma toward small babies and their mothers in Ghana: A study of the experiences of postpartum women living with HIV

Kwame S. Sakyi, Margaret Y. Lartey, Caitlin E. Kennedy, Julie A. Denison, Emma Sacks, Prince G. Owusu, Emily A. Hurley, Luke C. Mullany, Pamela J. Surkan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Infants born to HIV-infected mothers are more likely to be low birthweight (LBW) than other infants, a condition that is stigmatized in many settings worldwide, including sub-Saharan Africa. Few studies have characterized the social-cultural context and response to LBW stigma among mothers in sub-Saharan Africa or explored the views of women living with HIV (WLHIV) on the causes of LBW. We purposively sampled thirty postpartum WLHIV, who had given birth to either LBW or normal birthweight infants, from two tertiary hospitals in Accra, Ghana. Using semi-structured interviews, we explored women's understanding of the etiology of LBW, and their experiences of caring for a LBW infant. Interviews were analyzed using interpretive phenomenology. Mothers assessed their babies' smallness based on the baby's size, not hospital-recorded birthweight. Several participants explained that severe depression and a loss of appetite, linked to stigma following an HIV diagnosis during pregnancy, contributed to infants being born LBW. Women with small babies also experienced stigma due to the newborns' "undesirable"physical features and other people's unfamiliarity with their size. Consequently, mothers experienced blame, reluctance showing the baby to others, and social gossip. As a result of this stigma, women reported self-isolation and depressive symptoms. These experiences were layered on the burden of healthcare and infant feeding costs for LBW infants. LBW stigma appeared to attenuate with increased infant weight gain. A few of the women also did not breastfeed because they thought their baby's small size indicated pediatric HIV infection. Among WLHIV in urban areas in Ghana, mother and LBW infants may experience LBW-related stigma. A multi-component intervention that includes reducing LBW incidence, treating antenatal depression, providing psychosocial support after a LBW birth, and increasing LBW infants' weight gain are critically needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0239310
JournalPloS one
Volume15
Issue number10 October 2020
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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