Breastfeeding and HIV: Your Questions Answered


“Can I breastfeed if I am HIV positive?”


Mama, it’s normal to be concerned about the health and safety of your baby. And if you’re HIV positive and expecting a baby, you probably have a ton of questions about breastfeeding your new bundle of joy. Hopefully, we can help.


Is It Safe for Me to Breastfeed With a Detectable Viral Load of HIV?


First, let’s define what a detectable viral load is. To determine the level of HIV in a patient’s bloodstream, doctors will perform a viral load test. If detectable levels of HIV are found in the blood, this means an individual is positive for HIV.


If you’re been found positive for HIV and have a detectable viral load, the CDC states, “In the United States, to prevent HIV transmission, HIV-infected mothers should not breastfeed their infants.”


HIV is spread through bodily fluids, including breast milk. And according to the CDC, mother-to-child transmission can occur during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. That’s why it’s recommended that other feeding methods, such as formula, are used. 


Important Note: The CDC does recommend breastfeeding in cases where mamas don’t have access to clean water or safe, quality formula. In these cases, the CDC recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of life and continuing for at least 12 months after introducing solid foods.


Can I Breastfeed If My Viral Load Is Undetectable?


The CDC still recommends that mamas with HIV avoid breastfeeding regardless of viral load. Although the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby can be greatly reduced if you take antiretroviral treatment or ART, it doesn’t eliminate it.


We know there’s a ton of conflicting information out there, mama. That’s why many experts recommend working with your doctor to make the best decision for you and your baby based on your own risk. Breast milk can be highly beneficial to your baby’s growth and development, which may outweigh the risks of an undetectable viral load of HIV and while on ART.


What to Do If You Have HIV and a Baby On the Way


First things first, don’t stress. Being HIV positive doesn’t prevent you from feeding and bonding with your baby. All you need is some support, a plan and some options.


Talk With Your Doctor About a Breastfeeding Plan


Your doctor can make recommendations based on your HIV viral load and other factors unique to you. Speak with your doctor to determine a breastfeeding plan to ease your worries before your baby comes. This way, you’re prepared for whatever happens next.


Find Support From Those Who Have Experienced the Same


Plenty of moms just like you have experienced the challenges of having HIV while pregnant and breastfeeding. It’s also common for moms to experience pressure and judgment from others regardless of whether they choose to formula feed or breastfeed with HIV.


Finding and speaking to others who have been through the same can help support you through mamahood. Reach out to a support group online or ask your HIV physician for recommendations on where to go for help.


What Are Some Options for Feeding My Baby If I Have HIV?


If you have HIV and wish to avoid breastfeeding, first know this: a fed baby is a happy baby. As long as your baby is receiving the nutrients he or she needs for growth, you’re doing what you should be. There are other options, including formula feeding and reaching out for donor breast milk.


Formula


Baby formula, whether powdered or liquid, is a safe way to feed your baby. Formula is FDA-approved and includes all the nutrients your baby needs to grow. Plus, there are various types to choose from, based on your baby’s needs.


Important Note: Make sure you’re preparing your baby’s formula correctly. This means following the directions on the container and never adding more water than is required.


Donor Milk


If you wish to still provide breast milk, donor milk is also an option. This means milk that comes from another mama who is currently breastfeeding. The milk is frozen and sent to milk banks, where it is pasteurized, cooled and re-frozen.


Donor milk often costs anywhere from $3.00 to $5.00 an ounce. You can check with your health insurance to see if donor milk is covered.


If you choose to go with donor breast milk, be sure to go through a credible organization that screens their milk to avoid health risks for your baby. To find a milk bank, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Here, you’ll find both local and national milk banks to choose from.


Discover More Helpful Tips About Breastfeeding


Have more questions about breastfeeding? Check out our blog for more insights. Or, if you’re looking for a simpler way to pump or breastfeed, shop Willow today.


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