Background: Few studies in low- and middle-income countries have examined the roles of couples in infant and young child feeding decision making and practices, and there is no corresponding data in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Research aim: This study aimed to explore mothers' and fathers' perceptions of their roles in feeding decision making and practices.
Methods: The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 15 mothers and their male partners, recruited from the catchment areas of two urban and two rural government clinics in Lilongwe District, Malawi. The mothers were ≥ 18 years of age, were HIV positive, and had a child < 24 months of age. Twelve of the 15 fathers were also HIV positive. The interviews were analyzed using content analysis.
Results: Mothers were responsible for child care, including breastfeeding and complementary feeding. Fathers provided monetary support for purchasing food and offered verbal support to encourage mothers to implement recommended feeding practices. Many fathers found it difficult to support adequate complementary feeding because of household food insecurity. Mothers were advised on child feeding during prevention of mother-to-child transmission clinic visits. No fathers in this study accompanied women to clinic appointments, so they were less well-informed about feeding than mothers. Fathers usually deferred to mothers in feeding decision making. One-third of mothers wanted fathers to be more involved in child feeding.
Conclusion: Malawian mothers' and fathers' roles in feeding decision making in the context of HIV align with local gender norms. Strategies are needed to improve fathers' knowledge of and involvement in child feeding, as desired by mothers.
Keywords: breastfeeding; breastfeeding practices; complementary feeding; mother-to-child transmission; qualitative methods; social support.