Great strides are being made in trying to prevent postnatal Mother to child transmission of HIV AIDS. One of the strategies is through counselling on infant feeding options to HIV mothers, using the UNAIDS/WHO/UNICEF guidelines on infant feeding options. It is not clear how these feeding options and women’s knowledge of HIV transmission through breast milk is influencing mothers with unknown status in their feeding practices.
The purpose of the study was to describe perceptions of the community regarding breastfeeding based on their current knowledge of HIV transmission through breastfeeding, their attitudes and beliefs about breastfeeding and HIV, and their perceived risk of infecting the child through breastfeeding. The study was exploratory involving 39 in-depth interviews and 7 focus group discussions with mothers and fathers of children below one year and pregnant women with previous breastfeeding experience. The study was conducted in Lusaka where there are interventions to reduce MTCT and in Kitwe.
There was a fair amount of knowledge about chances of HIV transmission through breastfeeding among all study participants. Informants in Lusaka seemed more knowledgeable about the risk factors for HIV transmission. However, their knowledge about postnatal transmission of HIV was not matched with feeding practices. Results also show that misconceptions exist about breastfeeding and HIV in both areas. Despite the knowledge of the threat of HIV infection, attitudes towards breastfeeding remain positive as most participants said breastfeeding should still be promoted because they felt not everyone was infected, that exclusive breastfeeding reduced the chances of diarrhoea in children that breast milk substitutes were beyond the reach of most households.
Data from this study suggest that there are several factors that influence decision making about exclusive breastfeeding in an era of HIV/AIDS. These include own experience with exclusive breastfeeding, perceived value of breast milk, their own traditional knowledge, including attitudes and perceptions about breastfeeding and HIV. These factors may both negatively and positively influence the feeding decisions.
These results have implications for health care providers using infant feeding options as a strategy to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV.