Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Infant feeding counselling for HIV-infected and uninfected women: appropriateness of choice and practice

RM Bland, NC Rollins, HM Coovadia, A Coutsoudis, ML Newell


To examine infant feeding intentions of HIV-infected and uninfected women and the appropriateness of their choices according to their home resources; and to determine their adherence to their intentions in the first postnatal week.


Feeding intentions of pregnant women were compared against four resources that facilitate replacement feeding: clean water, adequate fuel, access to a refrigerator and regular maternal income. First-week feeding practices were documented.


The antenatal feeding intentions of 1253 HIV-infected women were: exclusive breastfeeding 73%; replacement feeding 9%; undecided 18%. Three percent had access to all four resources, of whom 23% chose replacement feeding. Of those choosing replacement feeding, 8% had access to all four resources. A clean water supply and regular maternal income were independently associated with intention to replacement feed (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 1.94, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2–3.2; AOR 2.1, 95% CI: 1.2–3.5, respectively). Significantly more HIV-infected women intending to exclusively breastfeed, rather than replacement feed, adhered to their intention in week one (exclusive breastfeeding 78%; replacement feeding 42%; P < 0.001). Of 1238 HIV-uninfected women, 82% intended to exclusively breastfeed; 2% to replacement feed; and 16% were undecided. Seventy-five percent who intended to exclusively breastfeed adhered to this intention postnatally, and only 11 infants (< 1%) received no breast milk. The number of antenatal home visits significantly influenced adherence to feeding intention.


Most HIV-infected women did not have the resources for safe replacement feeding, instead choosing appropriately to exclusively breastfeed. Adherence to feeding intention among HIV-infected women was higher in those who chose to exclusively breastfeed than to replacement feed. With appropriate counselling and support, spillover of suboptimal feeding practices to HIV-negative women is minimal.