Many women living with HIV have concerns about whether or not to breastfeed. Some women feel pressure to breastfeed from families and the community. Others just want to know the facts so that they and their doctor can make an informed decision.
If you are living with HIV, and are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, you may be starting to think about breastfeeding your baby, and whether it is safe or recommended.
A newly developed community resource has been launched by the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) and Positive Women Victoria, ‘Breastfeeding for women living with HIV in Australia’ – the first of its kind in Australia.
In a nutshell, the resource is for women living with HIV and provides information on the risks and benefits of breastfeeding and formula feeding. Whilst formula feeding for parents living with HIV is still the safest and the most recommended option by health experts, breastfeeding with the care and support of a healthcare team can be a reasonable option for many parents living with HIV in Australia.
It is important to consider that whilst taking HIV medication and having an undetectable viral load dramatically reduces the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby during breastfeeding, research shows that there is not an absolute zero risk (NAPWHA, 2021). Therefore, it is important to prepare and find a supportive healthcare team to make an informed decision on which option works best for you and your baby.
If you do make the decision to breastfeed, it is recommended that you breastfeed for no longer than 6 months, and continue to take precautions to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to your baby through breast milk. This includes: taking HIV medication on a tie and as prescribed; having an undetectable viral load during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and receiving regular medical care.
For any individual, there are many things to consider when deciding to breastfeed.
To find out more, read the full resource ‘Breastfeeding for women living with HIV in Australia’
These guidelines are based on ‘The Optimal Scenario & Context of Care: Guidance for Healthcare Providers regarding infant feeding options for people living with HIV.’ – ASHM Resource (August 2021)
NAPWHA recognises that people who feed infants with human milk are diverse in terms of gender and sexuality. This includes trans men and transmasculine and nonbinary people for whom the language in this document will not be appropriate.