HIV & Breastfeeding : Is it right?

It is a known fact that that an HIV-positive mother can infect her baby through breastfeeding. However, if correct measures are taken, the risk of transmission can be reduced and the child can received adequate nutrition and antibodies through breastfeeding.

Every HIV positive mother has the right to have all the relevant and correct information about breastfeeding. She has the right to make an informed decision for health and well-being of herself and her baby. On the occasion of World Aids Day 2017, we are sharing the things that one must know about breastfeeding and HIV.

WHO recommends that all mothers, regardless of their HIV status, practice exclusive breastfeeding – which means no other liquids or food are given – in the first six months. Combination of exclusive breastfeeding and the use of antiretroviral treatment can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to babies through breastfeeding.

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Facts:

  • Giving HIV-positive mothers a combination of antiretrovirals during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding reduced the risk of HIV transmission to infants by 42%.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of an infant’s life was associated with a three- to fourfold decreased risk of HIV transmission compared to infants who were breastfed and also received other milks or foods
  • Breastfeeding Antiretroviral and Nutrition study  showed a risk of HIV transmission reduced to just 1.8% for infants given the antiretroviral drug nevirapine daily while breastfeeding for 6 months.

Things you must know about HIV and Breastfeeding

  1. Mothers known to be HIV-infected (and whose infants are HIV uninfected or of unknown HIV status) should exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first 6 months of life.
  2. HIV-positive mothers or their infants take antiretroviral drugs throughout the period of breastfeeding. This means that the child can benefit from breastfeeding with very little risk of becoming infected with HIV.
  3. Appropriate complementary foods must be introduced after 6 months and safe water, sanitation and hygiene measures are to implemented to reduce
  4. opportunistic infections.
  5. Breast feeding must be continued for at least 12 months and the mother may continue breastfeeding for up to 24 months (similar to the general population) while being fully supported for ART adherence.
  6. In settings where health services provide and support lifelong ART, including adherence counselling, and promote and support breastfeeding among women living with HIV, the duration of breastfeeding should not be restricted.
  7. Breastfeeding not only provides babies with the nutrients they need for optimal development but also gives babies the antibodies they need to protect them against some of these common but deadly illnesses.
  8. Most children born to HIV-positive mothers and raised on formula do not die of AIDS but of under-nourishment, diarrhoea, pneumonia and other causes not related to HIV
  9. “Strong and dishonest” marketing campaigns that make unfounded claims that the formula milk contains special ingredients that improve baby’s health must be prohibited
  10. Breastfeeding advocacy should also be directed to the people who may influence a woman’s decision to breastfeed, i.e. her husband, extended family, health workers etc.
  11. Families, society and state must ensure enabling environment for HIV infected mothers to appropriately, adequately and safely breastfeed their children.

Now that you are aware of the facts, make sure you share the information to promote and support breastfeeding.

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Reference: World Health Organization Website (Accessed at: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/hivaids/guideline_hiv_infantfeeding_2016/en/ )

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