Risk of Infants Acquiring HIV through Breastfeeding

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Nov 30, 2011

Risk of infants acquiring HIV through breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides the much needed nutrients to protect the baby against illness such as respiratory infection and diarrhoea. It is undoubtedly the best way to feed an infant, but unfortunately, this is not true for all the babies, especially those born to an HIV-positive woman.  This is because HIV can be transmitted through breast feeding. An Infant is at greater risk of acquiring HIV through breastfeeding when fed in the absence of antiretroviral drugs. Over a year or two, it increases the chances of the baby’s infection by 40 percent.

Breastfeeding advice for HIV-positive mothers living in high-income countries


Babies that breasfeed are less likely to become ill than those who are on chemical or replacement food; but for HIV positive mothers, the situation is different. Mentioned below are some tips from National Health Agencies to the HIV positive mothers who wish to breastfeed their infant/s:


  • HIV positive mothers must avoid breastfeeding their baby as the risk of HIV transmission is greater than the risk associated with supplementary replacement feeding.
  • In high-income countries, replacement feeding is promoted as the only way to prevent HIV transmission from the mother to the child.
  • Formula feed is prepared by mixing powder in the boiling water. Since people living in high- income countries have access to clean water and other healthy facilities, women can opt for formula feeding.


In high-income countries, women are advised to breastfeed only if they are highly informed and motivated. Furthermore, the HIV positive mother is allowed to breastfeed only under exceptional circumstances and that too after seeking expert advice from a professional.

Breastfeeding advice for HIV-positive mothers living in low and middle-income countries


Infant feeding advice for HIV-positive women living in low and middle-income countries is different from that of women living in high-income countries. Such places have little access to health services, clean water and sanitation. To help an infant survive these conditions, it is wise to breastfeed them. In such places, formula feed cannot solve the purpose. Therefore, HIV positive women are left only with one realistic solution .i.e. to breast feed their baby.


According to 2010 guidelines of the World Health Organization:


  • Use of antiretroviral drugs throughout the breastfeeding period is important to reduce the risk of HIV transmission from mother to the baby.
  • Both the mother as well as infant is advised to take antiretroviral drug. Who will have to take a longer course of the drug is decided by the doctor, but either way, there is a high success rate of the treatment.
  • Mothers are advised to exclusively breastfeed their baby for the duration of six months or more. After the stipulated period, additional food supplements can be introduced as an add-on to breastfeeding.

Read more articles on HIV and AIDS Causes and Risks



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