Background: Breastfeeding amongst HIV-infected and HIV-exposed mother-infant dyads is a wide-ranging and persistent field in which more investigation is needed. The literature widely recognizes the multifactorial and syndemic nature of HIV and infant feeding, specifically pertaining to maternal and other breastfeeding-associated risks. Findings differed regarding breastfeeding and general developmental outcomes amongst HIV-exposed and HIV-infected infants when compared with HIV-unexposed infants. Evidence, however, suggests slight neurodevelopmental differences in HIV-exposed infants when compared with HIV-unexposed infants, suggesting possible feeding differences. Recent literature also indicated a lack of knowledge among allied health care staff regarding evidence-based counselling content to be provided to mothers concerning single option feeding, breastfeeding outcomes and risks in HIV-affected mother-infant dyads in South Africa. Owing to these varied findings related to HIV-affected mother-infant dyads, synthesising of knowledge regarding HIV, infant breastfeeding outcomes and associated risk factors is warranted.
Objective: To critically appraise recent literature regarding breastfeeding outcomes and associated risks in HIV-infected and HIV-exposed infants using the PRISMA-P statement guidelines.
Method: Five electronic databases were systematically searched to obtain English publications from the last ten years pertaining to breastfeeding outcomes and associated risks of HIV-infected and HIV-exposed infants and children. Grey literature sources were also included. Data were extracted according to various data items and were synthesised using thematic synthesis.
Results: Of the initial 7151 sources identified, 42 articles were deemed eligible for final inclusion. The final selection included 19 cohort studies and two expert committee reports, classified as grey literature. The remaining 21 studies compromised of case-control, cross-sectional, and randomized controlled trial studies. The following themes were identified from the review objectives: breastfeeding outcomes, breastfeeding risk factors, infant growth and developmental outcomes and barriers and facilitators to feeding decisions. Most studies focused on HIV-exposed infants’ growth and developmental outcomes. Exclusive breastfeeding was confirmed to have the best outcomes for all infants, regardless of their HIV status, which in turn supports national and international policies. The most prevalent factors that made it difficult for mothers to breastfeeding were maternal factors affecting decision-making for breastfeeding, followed by biological risk factors.
Conclusion: Knowledge regarding breastfeeding outcomes in HIV-exposed and HIV-infected infants remains lacking and further research is necessary. This review emphasised that the majority of HIV-affected mother-infant dyads reside in sub-Saharan Africa, illustrating that health professionals, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), have to look beyond their traditional assessment and management focuses to include the factors that can impact successful exclusive breastfeeding. Addressing both infants’ needs and maternal HIV-related needs and risks on macro, meso, and microsystem levels is necessary.