Morbidity in children born to women infected with human immunodeficiency virus in South Africa: does mode of feeding matter?

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To examine infant morbidity risks associated with refraining from breastfeeding where it is used in an attempt to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


The population consisted of infants born to HIV-infected women in South Africa who were participating in a vitamin A intervention trial to prevent MTCT of HIV. Women chose to breastfeed or formula feed their infants according to UNAIDS guidelines. Actual feeding practices and morbidity were recorded at clinic follow-up visits at 1 wk, 6 wk, 3 mo and every 3 mo thereafter until 15 mo of age or cessation of breastfeeding. The infant's HIV status was assessed according to a predetermined algorithm.


HIV-infected infants who were never breastfed had a poorer outcome than those who were breastfed; 9 (60%) of those who were never breastfed had 3 or more morbidity episodes compared with 15 (32%) of breastfed children [odds ratio (OR) 4.05, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.91–20.63, p = 0.05]. During the first 2 mo of life, never-breastfed infants (regardless of HIV status) were nearly twice as likely to have had an illness episode than breastfed infants (OR 1.91, 95% CI 1.17–3.13, p = 0.006).


The significant extra morbidity experienced in the first few months by all never-breastfed infants and at all times by HIV-infected infants who are not breastfed needs to be considered in all decisions by mothers, health workers and policy makers so as not to offset any gains achieved by decreasing HIV transmission through avoiding breastfeeding.

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