More and More Pregnant Women With HIV Consider Breastfeeding

More and More Pregnant Women With HIV Consider Breastfeeding

Unlike nine years ago, pregnant women living with HIV are 13 times more likely to talk to their doctors about breastfeeding.

In 2016, the World Health Organization declared that women living with HIV can choose to breastfeed, mainly in low-income countries where resources to feed babies are limited due, among other factors, to the lack of access to drinking water.

However, developed countries that do not face these deficiencies continue to recommend artificial feeding for newborns, because although it is true and currently proven that people with HIV who have an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the infection to their sexual partners, there is insufficient evidence to extrapolate this to breastfeeding.

A group of German researchers set out to find out more about this issue, as reported by the Working Group on HIV Treatments (gTt-HIV). To do this, they carried out an investigation, between November 2018 and July 2020, reviewing medical records dating from 2009, in order to identify whether, during the conversations that women with HIV had with their doctors, they had discussed breastfeeding.

The 42 participating women had attended 20 clinics throughout Germany, and 82% of them came from a sub-Saharan African country. Most of them (93%) were in good health. All were taking antiretroviral treatment, except one, who was an elite controller, that is, she kept the infection under control without the need for drugs, a very rare condition that is still under study.

The researchers observed that conversations about breastfeeding became more frequent over time: while only one woman spoke on the subject in 2009, 13 women had done so nine years later.

Most of the women who spoke about breastfeeding (93%) did so before delivery, and finally, 58% exclusively breastfed their baby. There were two women who experienced a viral rebound, and both decided to stop breastfeeding their babies as soon as they learned that their viral load was not undetectable.

Although the study found no data on whether the babies of these women were infected with HIV, Germany has reported no cases of perinatal transmission during the study period. On the subject, the researchers highlight the growing need to normalize breastfeeding in the context of HIV and pregnancy, given that more and more women choose this type of feeding.