In humans, pre-existing anti-HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) have not been associated with decreased HIV-1 acquisition. Here, we evaluate antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) present in pre-transmission infant and maternal plasma and breast milk (BM) against the contemporaneous maternal HIV-1 variants. HIV-1-exposed uninfected compared with HIV-1-exposed infected infants have higher ADCC and a combination of ADCC and nAb responses against their corresponding mother's strains. ADCC does not correlate with nAbs, suggesting they are independent activities. The infected infants with high ADCC compared with low ADCC, but not those with higher ADCC plus nAbs, have lower morbidity up to 1 year after birth. A higher IgA to IgG ratio, observed in BM supernatants and in a higher proportion of the infected compared with the uninfected infants, associates with lower ADCC. Against the exposure strains, ADCC, more than nAbs, associates with both lower mother-to-child transmission and decreased post-infection infant morbidity.