Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), to date, has no cure and has kept many of us, very apprehensive in contracting the deadly disease. Many women have come to know of their HIV condition only when they got pregnant, and not until routine pregnancy tests were done to them.
In some cultures, abortion was an option but, in others pregnancy is considered sacred and the baby must be given a chance to live. These women had one nagging question in their minds; Being HIV positive, does breastfeeding cause any complications either in the mother or in the infant?
To answer this question, a study was conducted on 1200 HIV positive mothers in Botswana, to determine whether breastfeeding affects lifespan of HIV positive mothers.
The results showed no significant difference in mortality, or worsening of the disease or a hurried decline of CD4 cell count and body mass index. The only significant difference found was the increased C-reactive protein (CRP) among the breastfeeding women, an anti-inflammatory marker that appears to be predictive of disease progression.
Although this is not conclusive, further study is being planned to look into the relationship of increased CRP and worsening HIV prognosis in these breastfeeding mothers.
Another study from Zambia was conducted, that focused on the effects of breastfeeding in the newborn babies of HIV positive mothers. The researchers hypothesized that breastfeeding is only vital until four months of age of the newborn; beyond this period they are already capable of survival on their own; this was done to hopefully protect the child from HIV transmission.
The results however showed otherwise, because discontinuing breastfeeding at this time caused more harm and increased the incidence of death as stated in the February 1, 2010 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The result of this study led to the recent change in the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, encouraging the use of postnatal use of antiretroviral therapy during the course of the six months breastfeeding period, to prevent vertical HIV transmission from mother to child.
The recent findings, however states, that with the use of antiretroviral program for HIV breastfeeding mothers and a single dose of nevirapine and four weeks of zidovudine among infants born to HIV positive mothers proved no significant reduction in HIV transmission during the breastfeeding period.
In conclusion, the HIV positive mothers with the guidance from the health care providers should be in the best position to decide whether to breastfeed or not depending on their cultural, economic and individual preferences.