Infant feeding practices among HIV-exposed infants less than 6 months of age in Bomet County, Kenya: an in-depth qualitative study of feeding choices

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Abstract

Background

In children, HIV can be acquired from the mother during pregnancy, delivery and through breast milk. The WHO recommends exclusive breast feeding or exclusive replacement feeding for the first 6 months after birth for HIV-exposed infants. Barriers such as HIV-related stigma, inadequate resources, lack of access to safe water and negative cultural beliefs have been shown to influence infant feeding among HIV-exposed infants in some settings. In Kenya, there is limited literature on the barriers. The purpose of this study was to identify barriers to optimal feeding among HIV-exposed infants 0–5 months of age attending a mission hospital in Bomet County, Kenya.

Methods

A cross-sectional qualitative study was conducted at a referral mission hospital in Bomet County, Southwest Kenya. Four focused group discussions were conducted among mothers/caregivers of HIV-exposed infants aged 0–5 months in accordance with their infant feeding practices, while two key informant interviews were also held with healthcare workers. All sessions were audio recorded and later transcribed verbatim. Content analysis was performed, and conclusions were made based on identified themes.

Results

Factors influencing the infant feeding choices were: financial constraints, cultural beliefs and practices, HIV-related stigma and conflicting knowledge among mothers/caregivers and healthcare workers on the recommendations for feeding HIV-exposed infants 0–5 months of age.

Conclusions

Health worker retraining in and reinforcement of WHO guidance on feeding HIV exposed/infected infants will clarify misconceptions around feeding HIV exposed/infected infants, though there remain social and economic barriers to full implementation.

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