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Cadernos de Saúde Pública

Print version ISSN 0102-311XOn-line version ISSN 1678-4464


CALVASINA, Paola Gondim; NATIONS, Marilyn K.; JORGE, Maria Salete Bessa  and  SAMPAIO, Helena Alves de Carvalho. "Birth weakness": cultural meanings of maternal impressions for infant health in Northeast Brazil. Cad. Saúde Pública [online]. 2007, vol.23, n.2, pp.371-380. ISSN 0102-311X.

Pregnancy encompasses socio-cultural, historical, and affective dimensions that process various meanings in women's bodies. Each society constructs popular concepts, practices, and explanatory models that differ from the biomedical model and aim to protect the mother and fetus and foster a healthy pregnancy. This qualitative study, based on interpretative anthropology, unveils the experiences of 27 poor women and their repercussions on the malnutrition of their infants, treated at a Childhood Malnutrition Treatment Center in Fortaleza, Northeast Brazil. From January to June 2004, ethnographic and narrative interviews were conducted on so-called "birth weakness", in addition to participant observation of outpatient, nursing, and home childcare. The mothers believed that their own physical and emotional suffering and precarious nutritional status were "imprinted" on the fetus, resulting in the child's malnutrition. While the ethno-etiology of "weakness" points to factors outside the body that involuntarily affect the pregnant mother, the medical view tended to incriminate the mother herself. It is necessary to understand the mothers' narratives, sympathize with their suffering, and spawn a closer approach between the popular and biomedical concepts.

Keywords : Pregnancy; Child Malnutrition; Cultural Anthropology.

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