News / Health

Exclusive, Extended Breastfeeding Lowers Mother-to-Infant HIV Risk

World Breastfeeding Week, which occurs August 1-7, has a simple goal: to increase the number of mothers who breastfeed.
World Breastfeeding Week, which occurs August 1-7, has a simple goal: to increase the number of mothers who breastfeed.
Jessica Berman
A new study has found that HIV-infected mothers are less likely to transmit the virus to their newborns if they breastfeed their child exclusively for more than four months.  The findings have important implications in sub-Saharan Africa, where infants are at greater risk of contracting and dying from diarrheal diseases or pneumonia.

Breastfeeding is widely regarded as the best form of nutrition for newborns because human milk transfers not only  essential nutrients but also important immune-system factors from mother to child, protecting the baby against potentially life-threatening infections.  

But Louise Kuhn of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York says there has always been some controversy about breastfeeding by HIV-infected mothers, since the virus that causes AIDS canalso be transmitted through breast milk.
 
Public health experts estimate that HIV-infected mothers have a 10 to 15 percent chance of passing the virus to their newborns through their breast milk. Kuhn and her colleagues wanted to find out if changes in breastfeeding routines would affect the levels of HIV in the breast milk.

They studied just over 950 HIV-infected women in Lusaka, Zambia in 2006 - before antiretroviral drugs were given to nursing mothers - and encouraged all of them to exclusively breastfeed their babies from birth for at least four months.   Throughout the study, the newborns were regularly tested for HIV.

At the four-month mark, half of the mothers were asked to stop nursing, while the other half continued to breastfeed exclusively. At four-and-a-half months, Kuhn says samples of breast milk were collected from all of the study participants and analyzed.

“We found that stopping breastfeeding early was a really bad idea for several different reasons," said Kuhn.

Kuhn says investigators discovered the highest concentrations of HIV in the breast milk of women who had stopped breast feeding at four months.  More than three-quarters of them had evidence of the virus in their milk, compared to just under 40 percent of the women who were still breastfeeding. The two groups of women showed no differences in HIV levels two weeks earlier, when they were both tested at the four-month mark.
                                            
Women in a control group who nursed an average of 16 months and supplemented breastfeeding with other nutrition also had higher HIV concentrations in their milk compared to those who breastfed exclusively beyond four months.

Investigators believe changes in breast tissue that occur during sudden weaning could account for higher concentrations of HIV in women who stopped nursing at four months.

Kuhn says the results show that even subtle decreases in breastfeeding frequency during a child’s infancy can increase concentrations of HIV in an infected mother’s breast milk.  That suggests that it is in the interest both of the mother and child for women to practice exclusive and extended breastfeeding.

Kuhn notes that breastfeeding is actually a very inefficient way to transmit the AIDS virus.  She says the risk is minimal among mothers who nurse and take antiretroviral drugs at the same time.

“If antiretroviral drugs are given and an HIV-positive woman is fully adherent with the treatment throughout the duration of breastfeeding, the actual risk of transmitting HIV through breast milk is exceedingly low.  It’s probably in the one to two percent [range] if not lower with complete adherence with antiretroviral therapy," she said.

An article on reducing the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission through breast milk is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.  

You May Like

In China, Mixed Signals on Ebola Controls

How authorities are monitoring at-risk individuals remains unclear, including whether there are quarantines for Chinese health workers returning from West Africa More

Video Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Elections

Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Electionsi
X
October 31, 2014 4:10 AM
Public opinion polls show American voters are deeply dissatisfied with their government and anxious about threats from abroad. This is especially true for a key voting group both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to win over: women. Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats, with majority control of the Senate at stake. VOA’s Cindy Saine looks at the crucial role women voters will play in deciding the elections.
Video

Video Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Elections

Public opinion polls show American voters are deeply dissatisfied with their government and anxious about threats from abroad. This is especially true for a key voting group both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to win over: women. Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats, with majority control of the Senate at stake. VOA’s Cindy Saine looks at the crucial role women voters will play in deciding the elections.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid