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Mothers’ infant feeding experiences: constraints and supports for optimal feeding in an HIV-impacted urban community in South Africa

  • Lindiwe Sibeko (a1), Anna Coutsoudis (a2), S’phindile Nzuza (a2) and Katherine Gray-Donald (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 27 March 2009

To better understand the enabling and challenging factors impacting on infant feeding practices in communities with a high HIV prevalence.


Qualitative study, with data collected through in-depth interviews and observations of mothers, in addition to discussions with health-service providers.


Urban settlement in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.


Mothers recruited from an HIV clinic and from within the community.


Emerging from discussions with mothers on the acceptability of alternative feeding methods were the challenges they encountered in feeding their infants. Mothers readily identified feeding in the context of HIV infection as an issue of great concern, encompassing three central themes: (i) stigma and disclosure of HIV; (ii) confusion and coercion; and (iii) diarrhoea, sickness and free formula. It became evident that mothers rarely received quality infant feeding counselling and consequently mixed feeding, a widespread practice but one that is highly risky for HIV transmission, remained a common feeding practice. Exclusive breast-feeding (EBF) was best practised with support, following disclosure of HIV status. Availability of free formula did not guarantee exclusive formula feeding but instead led to inappropriate feeding practices.


In addition to providing accurate information, health-care workers must be empowered to counsel mothers effectively, addressing issues of disclosure and thereby facilitating mobilization of maternal support networks. These findings illustrate the challenges that exist in policy translation within the context of quality of training for health-care workers on optimizing maternal infant feeding practices, particularly in HIV-prevalent, resource-poor settings.

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