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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid