Breastfeeding best for HIV positive mothers, too - A WHO reminder for World Breastfeeding Week

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If proper precautions are taken, an HIV positive mother can breastfeed without passing on the virus to their child.
If proper precautions are taken, an HIV positive mother can breastfeed without passing on the virus to their child.

World Breastfeeding Week, an annual campaign run by the World Health Organisation, takes place from 1 to 7 August. According to research by non-profit organisation Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre, pregnant women living with HIV are significantly less likely to express an intent to breastfeed their baby. However, as long as a pregnant women is taking their ART treatment, they can breastfeed without passing on the virus to their child. 


Must read: 4 ways South Africa needs to get over itself to better support breastfeeding moms

Pregnant women living with HIV in South Africa are significantly less likely to express an intent to breastfeed their baby, according to research by Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre.

"Among all women who had opted for formula feeding instead of breastfeeding, the decision to do so was driven by the fear of HIV transmission to the baby," says Executive Director of the Centre, Dr Jean Bassett. "This is largely due to inconsistent information being supplied to expecting moms by healthcare providers. Women are not properly educated about mother to child HIV transmission. This needs to change."

If proper precautions are taken, an HIV positive mother can breastfeed without passing on the virus to their child. Consistent antiretroviral treatment can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to babies through breastfeeding.

Since 2010, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended lifelong antiretroviral treatment for all women living with HIV, and exclusive breastfeeding for six-months followed by breastmilk and solids until 24-months for all HIV positive mothers. 

"Breastmilk has the ideal nutrition for babies and helps to prevent illness and infant death, as it contains key antibodies. Babies need nothing more than breastmilk for the first six months of life, not even water or juice," says Bassett.

"For moms, it aids with recovery after birth and strengthens the bond with their child. It has also been found to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type two diabetes and depression amongst mothers."

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