Breastfeeding Practices Among Women Living with HIV in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: An Observational Study

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Maternal and Child Health Journal

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Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is the safest infant feeding option in resource-limited settings, though women living with HIV have the lowest rates of EBF. Barriers to EBF in the absences of a formal intervention in women living with HIV in KwaZulu-Natal, where the prevalence of HIV among pregnant women is among the highest in the world, are understudied. Thus, this study sought to describe barriers to EBF and examine differences in social support, disclosure status, mood, and HIV-related stigma among women with different feeding methods.


Women living with HIV enrolled in preventing mother-to-child transmission treatment (n = 156) were interviewed postpartum (M = 13.1 weeks) at a district hospital and self-reported infant feeding method, reasons not breastfeeding (if applicable), and HIV disclosure status. Mood, HIV-related stigma, functional social support, and HIV-related social support were also assessed.


No participants reported mixed feeding, 30% reported EBF, and 70% reported exclusive formula feeding. Commonly reported reasons for not breastfeeding included fear of HIV transmission to the infant and being away from the infant for extended periods of time. Social support (p = 0.02) and HIV-related social support (p < 0.01) were significantly higher in women who had attempted breastfeeding compared to women who never attempted breastfeeding.


Rates of EBF in this sample are lower than in other recent studies, suggesting this sample experiences multiple barriers to EBF. Healthcare providers should seek to correct misconceptions regarding HIV transmission and breastfeeding practices. Social and logistical support for EBF may be important considerations for future interventions.


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