1 – 7 August is World Breastfeeding Week! Annually, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) coordinates and organises the World Breastfeeding Week from 1 to 7 August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. WABA is a global network of individuals and organisations dedicated to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide.
While mothers globally are encouraged to breastfeed, there are still a lot of myths surrounding breastfeeding while the mother is living with HIV. Let us help you bust some of those myths:
Myth: If a mother is HIV-positive, she should not breastfeed at all.
Fact: False, a mother living with HIV can safely breastfeed her child for up to 12 months, if both mother and child take their anti retrovirals (ARVs) correctly and consistently. When deciding whether or not to breastfeed, the mother needs to stick with her decision and not mix-feed—which is giving an infant anything other than the exclusive feeding choice—as this increases the risk for contracting the virus.
Myth: For as long as the mother takes her ARVs correctly, the baby is safe, therefore she can give formula with breastmilk from birth.
Fact: False, even though the risk of passing the virus to the baby is very low when the mother takes her ARVs correctly and consistently, it is still very important for the mother to give only breastmilk to her baby for the first six months. Giving infants under six months breast milk plus anything other than medicines prescribed by a healthcare worker, increases the risk of passing the virus to the baby. This is because it can irritate and cause small breaks in the infant’s gut, which gives HIV more access to the infant’s bloodstream.
Myth: If a mother is HIV-negative, she does not have to practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
Fact: True, however, the mother will also have to make sure that she remains HIV negative as getting infected with HIV while breastfeeding can put the baby at a very high risk. The mother will have to practice safer sex by using condoms and testing regularly for HIV.
Every mother, regardless of her HIV status, has a right to breastfeed her child. All mothers need is accurate information and adequate support to make the best choices possible for their children and families.