Factors Distinguishing Positive Deviance Among Low-Income African American Women: A Qualitative Study on Infant Feeding

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Abstract

Background:

Positive deviant individuals practice beneficial behaviors in spite of having qualities characterizing them as high risk for unhealthy behaviors.

Objective:

This study aimed to identify and understand factors distinguishing low-income African American women who breastfeed the longest (positive deviants) from those who breastfeed for a shorter duration or do not breastfeed.

Methods:

Seven mini-focus groups on infant-feeding attitudes and experiences were conducted with 25 low-income African American women, grouped by infant-feeding practice. Positive deviants, who had breastfed for 4 months or more, were compared with formula-feeding participants who had only formula fed their babies and short-term breastfeeding participants who had breastfed for 3 months or less.

Results:

Positive deviant women had more schooling, higher income, breastfeeding intention, positive breastfeeding and unfavorable formula-feeding attitudes, higher self-efficacy, positive hospital and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children experiences, more exclusive breastfeeding, and greater comfort breastfeeding in public. Short-term breastfeeding women varied in breastfeeding intention and self-efficacy, seemed to receive insufficient professional breastfeeding support, and supplemented breastfeeding with formula. Some showed ambivalence, concern with unhealthy behaviors, and discomfort with breastfeeding in public. Formula-feeding women intended to formula feed, feared breastfeeding, thought their behaviors were incompatible with breastfeeding, were comfortable with and found formula convenient, and received strong support to formula feed.

Conclusion:

Tapping into the strengths of positive deviants; tailoring interventions to levels of general and breastfeeding self-efficacy; increasing social, institutional, and community supports; and removing inappropriate formula promotion may offer promising strategies to increase breastfeeding among low-income African American women.

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