Background: Early initiation of breastfeeding (within an hour of birth) has benefits for newborn health and survival. Optimal breastfeeding supports growth, health, and development. Health facilities provide essential pregnancy, maternal, and newborn care and offer support for early breastfeeding. We examined the relationship between the breastfeeding-related health service environment during antenatal care (ANC) and early initiation of breastfeeding.
Methods: Using data from recent Service Provision Assessment (SPA) surveys in Haiti and Malawi, we defined three indicators of the health service environment: availability of facilities with ANC services reporting routine breastfeeding counseling; provider training on breastfeeding; and breastfeeding counseling during ANC. We linked SPA data geographically to Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data from Haiti and Malawi. Multilevel, multivariable logistic regressions examined associations between the health service environment and early initiation of breastfeeding, controlling for women's background characteristics, with separate analyses for urban and rural residence.
Results: Over 95% of facilities in Haiti and Malawi reported routinely providing breastfeeding counseling during ANC. Only 40% of both urban and rural providers in Malawi and 29 and 26% of providers at urban and rural facilities in Haiti (respectively) received recent training in counseling on breastfeeding. Further, only 4-10% of clients received counseling. Breastfeeding counseling was generally more common among clients who attended ANC with a provider who had received recent training. After linking SPA and DHS data, our analysis showed that having more providers recently trained on breastfeeding was significantly associated with increased odds of early breastfeeding among women in urban areas of Haiti and Malawi. Additionally, women in urban areas of Malawi lived near facilities with more counseling during ANC were more likely to begin breastfeeding within an hour of birth compared with women in areas with less counseling.
Conclusions: Our study identified gaps in the health system's capacity to implement the recommended global guidelines in support of optimal breastfeeding practices. While breastfeeding counseling during ANC can promote early breastfeeding, counseling was not common. The study provides evidence that provider training could help improve counseling and support for early initiation of breastfeeding.
Keywords: Antenatal care; Breastfeeding counseling; Demographic and Health Survey (DHS); Early initiation of breastfeeding; Service Rrovision Assessment (SPA); Service readiness.