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Curr Dev Nutr. 2019 Feb 28;3(4):nzy092. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzy092. eCollection 2019 Apr.

Early Initiation and Exclusivity of Breastfeeding in Rural Zimbabwe: Impact of a Breastfeeding Intervention Delivered by Village Health Workers.

Author information

Zvitambo Institute for Maternal and Child Health Research, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Ministry of Health and Child Care, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London, London, United Kingdom.
Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.



Suboptimal breastfeeding contributes to >800,000 global child deaths annually. Optimal breastfeeding includes early initiation (EI) and exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for the first 6 mo.


We tested the hypothesis that an intervention targeting context and infant age-specific barriers to EI and EBF will achieve a higher EI and EBF prevalence than those of women participating in the concurrently conducted 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (Z-DHS).


We designed an intervention to promote EI and EBF, and implemented it within the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy (SHINE) trial in rural Zimbabwe. Intervention modules were delivered at 4 perinatal time points by government-employed village health workers. We compared EI and EBF prevalence among SHINE women who provided outcomes at 1 mo (n = 2442) and 3 mo (n = 2728), with women in the 2015 Z-DHS.


In cross-sectional analyses EI prevalence was 86.6% and 64.3% in the SHINE and Z-DHS samples, respectively; absolute difference (95% CI) = 22.4% (17.5%, 27.3%). EBF prevalence was similarly high (>80%) in both surveys during the first month of life; during 1 to <2 mo, 2 to <3 mo, 3 to <4 mo, 4 to <5 mo, and 5 to <6 mo, EBF prevalence was, respectively, 85%, 90%, 90%, 84%, and 75% in SHINE, and 71%, 65%, 35%, 26%, and 25% in Z-DHS; absolute difference (95% CI) = 50.2% (34.7%, 65.7%) at 5 to <6 mo. Cesarean delivery, mother's belief that intimate partner violence was sometimes justifiable, and having a male infant negatively modified the effects of the intervention.


The SHINE intervention achieved a high prevalence of EI and EBF. Concurrently addressing gender norms will be critical to make further progress. Formative studies to identify context- and infant age-specific barriers to EI and EBF may inform improvement of breastfeeding practices elsewhere. Important work remains to scale up this intervention beyond a research setting. SHINE was registered at as NCT01824940.


Zimbabwe; breast milk; early breastfeeding initiation; exclusive breastfeeding; infants; village health workers

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