Infant feeding by South African mothers living with HIV: implications for future training of health care workers and the need for consistent counseling

West, N. S., Schwartz, S. R., Yende, N., Schwartz, S. J., Parmley, L., Gadarowski, M. B., Mutunga, L., Bassett, J. and Van Rie, A.

Background: Since 2010, the World Health Organization recommends lifelong antiretroviral treatment for all women living with HIV, and exclusive breastfeeding for six-months followed by breastfeeding until 24-months for all HIV positive mothers. Nevertheless, many mothers living with HIV do not initiate breastfeeding or stop prematurely, and many countries are still in the process of updating their national infant feeding guidelines to align with World Health Organization recommendations. We sought to understand uptake of breastfeeding and factors that influence decision-making regarding infant feeding in women living with and without HIV who receive ante- and postnatal care at a primary healthcare setting.

Methods: Programmatic data on infant feeding intentions and practices among women attending an ante-and postnatal clinic service at a primary care clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa were summarized using descriptive statistics. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 healthcare providers, 12 women living with HIV who were breastfeeding and 10 who were formula feeding. Interviews were analyzed using a content analysis approach.

Results: Pregnant women living with HIV were less likely to express an intent to breastfeed (71% vs 99%). During the first 6 months postpartum, mothers living with HIV were also less likely to exclusively breastfeed compared to HIV-negative mothers. Mixed messages during infant feeding counselling, social and economic factors, and fear of HIV transmission influenced women's choices to initiate and continue breastfeeding.

Conclusions: As infant feeding guidelines for women living with HIV have evolved rapidly in the past 10 years, uniform messages on the low risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV associated with breastfeeding while on ART and on introduction of complementary foods after 6 months of age are needed.

April 12, 2019
Year of publication
Resource types
Journal and research articles
infant feeding, pregnant women living with HIV, PMTCT

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