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PLoS Med. 2016 Oct 25;13(10):e1002159. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002159. eCollection 2016 Oct.

Impacts on Breastfeeding Practices of At-Scale Strategies That Combine Intensive Interpersonal Counseling, Mass Media, and Community Mobilization: Results of Cluster-Randomized Program Evaluations in Bangladesh and Viet Nam.

Author information

Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America.
Alive & Thrive, FHI360, Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America.
Save the Children, Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America.
BRAC, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, United States of America.



Despite recommendations supporting optimal breastfeeding, the number of women practicing exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) remains low, and few interventions have demonstrated implementation and impact at scale. Alive & Thrive was implemented over a period of 6 y (2009-2014) and aimed to improve breastfeeding practices through intensified interpersonal counseling (IPC), mass media (MM), and community mobilization (CM) intervention components delivered at scale in the context of policy advocacy (PA) in Bangladesh and Viet Nam. In Bangladesh, IPC was delivered through a large non-governmental health program; in Viet Nam, it was integrated into government health facilities. This study evaluated the population-level impact of intensified IPC, MM, CM, and PA (intensive) compared to standard nutrition counseling and less intensive MM, CM, and PA (non-intensive) on breastfeeding practices in these two countries.


A cluster-randomized evaluation design was employed in each country. For the evaluation sample, 20 sub-districts in Bangladesh and 40 communes in Viet Nam were randomized to either the intensive or the non-intensive group. Cross-sectional surveys (n ~ 500 children 0-5.9 mo old per group per country) were implemented at baseline (June 7-August 29, 2010, in Viet Nam; April 28-June 26, 2010, in Bangladesh) and endline (June 16-August 30, 2014, in Viet Nam; April 20-June 23, 2014, in Bangladesh). Difference-in-differences estimates (DDEs) of impact were calculated, adjusting for clustering. In Bangladesh, improvements were significantly greater in the intensive compared to the non-intensive group for the proportion of women who reported practicing EBF in the previous 24 h (DDE 36.2 percentage points [pp], 95% CI 21.0-51.5, p < 0.001; prevalence in intensive group rose from 48.5% to 87.6%) and engaging in early initiation of breastfeeding (EIBF) (16.7 pp, 95% CI 2.8-30.6, p = 0.021; 63.7% to 94.2%). In Viet Nam, EBF increases were greater in the intensive group (27.9 pp, 95% CI 17.7-38.1, p < 0.001; 18.9% to 57.8%); EIBF declined (60.0% to 53.2%) in the intensive group, but less than in the non-intensive group (57.4% to 40.6%; DDE 10.0 pp, 95% CI -1.3 to 21.4, p = 0.072). Our impact estimates may underestimate the full potential of such a multipronged intervention because the evaluation lacked a "pure control" area with no MM or national/provincial PA.


At-scale interventions combining intensive IPC with MM, CM, and PA had greater positive impacts on breastfeeding practices in Bangladesh and Viet Nam than standard counseling with less intensive MM, CM, and PA. To our knowledge, this study is the first to document implementation and impacts of breastfeeding promotion at scale using rigorous evaluation designs. Strategies to design and deliver similar programs could improve breastfeeding practices in other contexts.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: NCT01678716 (Bangladesh) and NCT01676623 (Viet Nam).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

JB, TS, NH, SA, KA and RH are part of the Alive and Thrive implementation team who delivered the interventions described in this paper. They helped conceive and design the study, but played no role in research data collection or data analysis. Their contributions to this manuscript included written inputs to sections on intervention design, critical in-person discussions regarding interpretation of results, and written review of manuscript drafts. Final decisions about results to include, interpretation and conclusions rested with authors from the evaluation team (PM, RR, EAF, MR, PN, KKS, AKh, AKn, LTM).

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