Cape Town - The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University (FMHS) found that HIV-positive mothers should breastfeed during their child's first year of life.
The study contradicts some earlier recommendations.
It also looked at a reduction in risk of pneumonia and diarrhoea, which lead the causes of child mortality in the Western Cape.
Dr Moleen Zunza, a researcher at the university, investigated the social and contextual factors affecting HIV-infected women's feeding practices for their infants as part of her PHD thesis.
One of the main reasons these women were not breastfeeding was earlier views on the matter.
Her study was conducted while the Western Cape Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission programme was transitioning from supporting replacement feeding, to recommending breastfeeding supported by antiretroviral protection.
She said few women chose breastfeeding, and those who did, switched to formula feeding early. “Some tested interventions include individual counselling, group education, mobile phone text messaging and motivational interviewing.
"This transition was associated with conflicted feelings in women and healthcare providers about whether or not to breastfeed,” Zunza said.
The study shows years of promoting formula-feeding for HIV-positive women eroded the confidence in breastfeeding among healthcare workers and women.
“The first practical recommendation from this study involves disseminating evidence to healthcare authorities and communities who often don't recognise benefits of breastfeeding for health and development of children.
“For breastfeeding to be successfully promoted and supported, actions are needed at many levels, from policy directives to social,” she said.
Provincial health deputy director Mark van der Heever, said they are in full agreement that every woman, whether HIV positive or negative, has a choice regarding the feeding formula.
The mother may be advised on the suitability thereof by the health care workers depending on her general health status and that of the child.
“All HIV-positive pregnant women must be initiated on antiretroviral treatment (ART).
"Depending on the period on ART and viral load (VL) status they are categorised as high or low risk of transmission,” Van der Heever said.