Background Integrated nutrition and health programs seek to reduce undernutrition by educating child caregivers about infant feeding and care. Data on the quality of program implementation and consequent effects on infant feeding practices are limited. This study evaluated the effectiveness of enhancing a nutrition and health program on breastfeeding and complementary-feeding practices in rural India. Methods Utilizing a quasi-experimental design, one of the implementing districts of a Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) nutrition and health program was randomly selected for enhanced services and compared with a district receiving the Government of India’s standard nutrition and health package alone. A cohort of 942 mother-child dyads was longitudinally followed from birth to 18 months. In both districts, the evaluation focused on responses to services delivered by community-based nutrition and health care providers [anganwadi workers (AWWs) and auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs)]. Findings The CARE enhanced program district showed an improvement in program coverage indicators (e.g., contacts, advice) through outreach visits by both AWWs (28.8–59.8% vs. 0.7–12.4%; all p<0.05) and ANMs (8.6–46.2% vs. 6.1–44.2%; <0.05 for ages 6 months). A significantly higher percentage of child caregivers reported being contacted by the AWWs in the CARE program district (20.5–45.6% vs. 0.3–21.6%; p<0.05 for all ages except at 6months). No differences in ANM household contacts were reported. Overall, coverage remained low in both areas. Less than a quarter of women received any infant feeding advice in the intervention district. Earlier and exclusive breastfeeding improved with increasing number or quality of visits by either level of health care provider (OR: 2.04–3.08, p = <0.001), after adjusting for potentially confounding factors. Socio-demographic indicators were the major determinants of exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 month and age-appropriate complementary-feeding practices thereafter in the program-enhanced but not comparison district. Interpretation An enhanced nutrition and health intervention package improved program exposure and associated breastfeeding but not complementary-feeding practices, compared to standard government package.
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