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close this bookHIV in Pregnancy: A Review (UNAIDS, 1999, 67 p.)
close this folderSECTION A : HIV IN PREGNANCY
close this folderAppropriate interventions to reduce mother-to-child transmission
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAntiretroviral therapy
View the documentImmune therapy
View the documentNutritional interventions
View the documentMode of delivery
View the documentVaginal cleansing
View the documentModification of infant feeding practice

Modification of infant feeding practice

The increased risk of HIV transmission through breastfeeding is well documented237,238,302,303. Breastfeeding is responsible for a high proportion of mother-to-child transmission in developing countries, where 1 in 7 children born to HIV-positive mother will be infected through breast milk247. Breastfeeding may double the transmission rate111,238,304 and may be the major determinant for the difference in transmission rates between developed and developing countries. A meta-analysis of studies of transmission through breastfeeding showed the additional risk of transmission through breastfeeding to be between 7 and 22%, and close to 30% for women who are infected during the breastfeeding period237. Potential modifications of infant feeding practices include complete avoidance of breastfeeding, early cessation, pasteurisation of breast milk, and avoiding breastfeeding in the presence of breast abscesses or cracked nipples111,305.

The debate on appropriate infant feeding has focused almost exclusively on the risks and benefits of breastfeeding for the infant. Maternal considerations should also be taken into account, although there is a need for further research into the relationship between HIV infection, nutritional status and immune function in breastfeeding mothers. The concerns about the effect of breastfeeding on maternal health in HIV positive women include the potential effects of breastfeeding and resultant weight loss on the immunity and long-term prognosis of the mother. The effects of advanced disease or nutritional deficiencies on the risk of transmission in breast milk and the function of immunologically active components of breast milk from severely immune suppressed or malnourished mothers also need to be considered306. Breast milk could have advantages for those infants already infected with HIV by the time of birth, if there was a way to identify these children.

In developed countries, few HIV positive women will breastfeed307. In resource poor settings, alternatives to breastfeeding may not be feasible for financial, logistical and cultural reasons126,308,309. Mothers should be given the information on the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding and replacement feeding with regard to HIV infection, and encouraged to make a fully informed decision about infant feeding. They should be supported in their decision247.