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

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs