Background: Most mothers breastfeed in Bangladesh, but they rarely practise exclusive breastfeeding. Hospital-based strategies for breastfeeding promotion cannot reach them because about 95% have home deliveries. We postulated that with the intervention of trained peer counsellors, mothers could be enabled to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended duration of 5 months.
Methods: 40 adjacent zones in Dhaka were randomised to intervention or control groups. Women were enrolled during the last trimester of pregnancy between February and December, 1996. In the intervention group, 15 home-based counselling visits were scheduled, with two visits in the last trimester, three early postpartum (within 48 h, on day 5, between days 10 and 14), and fortnightly thereafter until the infant was 5 months old. Peer counsellors were local mothers who received 10 days' training.
Findings: 363 women were enrolled in each group. Peer counselling significantly improved breastfeeding practices. For the primary outcome, the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding at 5 months was 202/228 (70%) for the intervention group and 17/285 (6%) for the control group (difference=64%; 95% CI 57%-71%, p>0.0001). For the secondary outcomes, mothers in the intervention group initiated breastfeeding earlier than control mothers and were less likely to give prelacteal and postlacteal foods. At day 4, significantly more mothers in the intervention group breastfed exclusively than controls.
Interpretation: Peer counsellors can effectively increase the initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding. We recommend incorporation of peer counsellors in mother and child health programmes in developing countries.