How does HIV affect breast milk?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV can pass to a baby through breast milk.
Although huge advances have been made in treating HIV with antiretroviral therapy (ART), there's still no cure. Left untreated, HIV causes a gradual breakdown of the immune system, eventually leading to AIDS. People with AIDS are more likely to suffer life-threatening infections and certain types of cancer.
Can I breastfeed if I'm HIV positive?
In countries like the United States where alternatives are readily available, breastfeeding isn't recommended. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and other leading health organizations advise against nursing when you're HIV positive.
Because HIV can be transmitted through breast milk, breastfeeding puts your baby at risk of becoming infected with HIV. This is true even when ART has reduced the amount of virus in the body to very low levels.
Also, the drugs used for ART can reach your baby through your breast milk, although experts aren't sure to what degree. This means it's hard for them to say whether the levels of ART in your breast milk are safe for your baby.
How do I feed my baby when I'm HIV positive?
You can bottle-feed with donor milk or give your baby formula.
However, you may face social pressure to breastfeed. If you don't feel comfortable explaining why you can't nurse your baby, having a low milk supply or breast pain are other common reasons women can't breastfeed.
Visit the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's website for more information and to find an MFM specialist near you.