Ten safer-breastfeeding rules when you're living with HIV


Guidelines from the British HIV Association (BHIVA) state that in the UK and other high-income settings, the safest way to feed your child when you have HIV is with formula milk, as this means there’s zero risk of ongoing HIV exposure after birth. In the UK, BHIVA recommends that you feed your infant with formula if you’re living with HIV.

Nonetheless, some people living with HIV do decide to breastfeed, for a variety of reasons. If you choose to breastfeed, it’s essential to continue to take HIV treatment and to maintain an undetectable viral load throughout. You will be asked to come for monthly check-ups at your HIV clinic with your baby.

HIV doctors in the UK have published advice on breastfeeding when you have HIV. Following this advice will lower the risk of HIV transmission, but not remove it entirely.

1. Tell your HIV team if you want to breastfeed – it may not be as safe as formula feeding, but they will help you make it as safe as possible for your baby.

2. 100% adherence to HIV drugs – that means taking your medication exactly as prescribed.

3. Stop all breastfeeding as early as possible. The sooner you stop breastfeeding, the lower the risk of passing HIV on.

4. Breast milk only – no other food or drinks for the baby while you are breastfeeding (apart from vitamins and medications as advised).

5. Prepare for when you might have to stop breastfeeding – consider building up a supply of expressed breast milk and have an emergency set of bottles, formula and prescription for cabergoline (to suppress milk production) for established breastfeeding.

6. Do not breastfeed if you develop mastitis (an inflammation of breast tissue), cracked bleeding nipples or nipple thrush.

NAM aidsmap's Susan Cole shares the latest advice on feeding your baby when you are living with HIV.

7. Do not breastfeed if you or your baby develops diarrhoea or vomiting.

8. Only breastfeed when you have an undetectable viral load.

9. Do not return to breastfeeding once the baby starts formula feeding.

10. Get breastfeeding advice from someone who knows you’re living with HIV – the advice is sometimes different for people living with HIV than those without HIV.

To find out more about formula feeding, breastfeeding and why the advice is different according to where you live in the world, please read our comprehensive page on infant feeding.

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