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Can HIV positive mothers breastfeed?

By Vision Reporter

Added 27th June 2011 03:00 AM

THE decision to breastfeed or not should be taken by your sister after being counselled and guided through the pros and cons of breastfeeding for HIV positive mothers. It should not be forced on her by nurses or other health service providers.

Dear doctor,
My sister who is expecting a baby is HIV positive but we are concerned because nurses at her clinic have told her she should breastfeed her baby when she delivers and yet she lost a child she breastfed the last time she delivered. Is it true that now HIV positive mothers can breastfeed their children unlike in the past when they were discouraged from doing so? Please advise.
Sarah

Dear Sarah,
THE decision to breastfeed or not should be taken by your sister after being counselled and guided through the pros and cons of breastfeeding for HIV positive mothers. It should not be forced on her by nurses or other health service providers.

It is true that in the past, HIV positive mothers were discouraged from breast feeding to avoid infecting their babies with HIV found in breast milk. But now, we know better practices.

A lot of the children who were not breastfed ended up dying; not due to HIV but because of malnutrition or diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe feeding practices.

This was because many of the people who were advised not to breast feed their babies could not afford to buy acceptable alternative children feeds such as powdered milk.

It is now known that if HIV positive mothers are put on ARVs and they adhere well, their viral load or amount of virus in the blood is very low and they do not easily pass on the virus to their babies; during pregnancy, labour or while breastfeeding.

However, if your sister chooses not to breastfeed her baby, the method she chooses to use to feed the child must be feasible for her, safe for the baby and sustainable in the long run.

Can HIV positive mothers breastfeed?

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