Postnatal Peer Counseling on Exclusive Breastfeeding of Low-birthweight Filipino Infants : Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Abstract: In a Manila hospital, 204 mothers were randomized into three groups: two intervention groups receiving home-based counseling visits, one of them (n=68) by counselors trained to use a locally developed, two-tiered program of breastfeeding counseling, and the other by counselors trained in general childcare (n=67), were compared with a control group of mothers (n=69) who did not receive any counseling. All infants were scheduled for seven visits to the hospital for follow-up. During hospital visits, maternal and infant body measurements were made and an independent interviewer asked the mothers individually to recall how the infant had been fed. One study physician, blind to participant groups, was consulted at all scheduled and unscheduled infant visits.At six months, 44% of the breastfeeding-counseled mothers, 7% of the childcare-counseled mothers and none of the mothers in the control group were exclusively breastfeeding. Twenty- four mothers breastfed exclusively during the first six months, of whom 22 received breastfeeding counseling and 2 had no breastfeeding counseling. Among 24 infants who were exclusively breastfed from birth to six months there were no episodes of diarrhea. All infants had gained in weight, length and head circumference. Mean maternal weight loss at six months was similar whether her breastfeeding was exclusive or partial.The reasons why mothers without breastfeeding counseling introduced non-breast milk feeding before six months reflected lack of knowledge and support. Breastfeeding support during the first six months focusing on how to prevent and solve breastfeeding problems, particularly during the first two weeks, will enable mothers to choose to breastfeed exclusively up to six months. This study has provided fundamental evidence of successful intervention by breastfeeding counseling to achieve six months of exclusive breastfeeding among term, low-birthweight infants. The locally developed training program in breastfeeding counseling, which successfully prepared volunteers to counsel mothers at home, could be incorporated into primary health care in the Philippines. Mothers who received breastfeeding counseling appreciated how this helped them to achieve their breastfeeding goals for the first six months. Improved breastfeeding practices as a result of breastfeeding counseling provided infants with protection from diarrhea and respiratory infections, contributing to their health and development.