Breastfeeding and HIV transmission
A large study of mothers and children carried out in Zimbabwe lends further
support to the view that it is probably better for mothers with HIV infection to
breastfeed exclusively rather than engage in mixed feeding, as children exposed
to a mixture of breastfeeding and other forms of feeding are more than four
times as likely to have become infected with HIV at the age of six months when
compared to infants exclusively breastfed.
Can HIV mothers breast feed ?
The safest way to breastfeed in the first six months is to do so exclusively,
without adding any other foods or fluids to the infant's diet. Such additions
are not needed and may cause gut infections that could increase the risk of HIV
transmission. Early introduction of non-human milks and solid foods should be
strongly discouraged because it increases the risk of HIV infection for babies
of HIV-positive women and the risk of diarrhea and respiratory infections for
HIV passes via breastfeeding to about 14 percent of infants born to HIV-infected
women. This rate of transmission is thought to be influenced by breastfeeding
patterns, maternal viremia, malaria and timing of the infection.
There is evidence that the risk of transmission continues as long as the infant
is breastfed. The risk of death due to replacement feeding is greatest in the
first few months and becomes lower later on. Some mothers may choose to stop
breastfeeding early and introduce breast milk substitutes as soon as an
available replacement method becomes safer. The optimal time for introducing
substitutes is not known and varies with the situation.
Why is Mothers milk recommended ?
Firstly, alternatives to breastfeeding are often neither affordable nor safe. In
many countries, where the cost of locally available formula exceeds the average
household's income, families cannot buy sufficient supplies of breast milk
substitutes, leading to over dilution, underfeeding or substitution with
dangerous alternatives. Even non-milk liquids like water or juice are likely to
increase the risk of HIV transmission
Secondly, artificial feeding roughly triples the risk of infant death in
environments, where most infants' deaths are due to infectious diseases such as
diarrhea and pneumonia, where hygiene and sanitation are often poor and where
access to adequate health care is limited.
Lastly, researches show that breastfeeding appears to slow the progression of
the disease . A study of both HIV-positive and HIV-negative mothers identified a
factor in human milk that inhibits the binding of HIV to specific receptor sites
on human T-cells in the laboratory, thus potentially inhibiting the virus from
taking hold in the baby.
However, the best way to protect children from HIV is to help women avoid HIV