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Media Release: Breastfeeding and HIV

La Leche League International acknowledges the worldwide challenge of making informed infant feeding decisions when HIV transmission is a consideration. Parents and health care providers are urged to weigh the well-known, documented health and emotional benefits of human milk and breastfeeding for both mother and child against the known, documented health hazards of breast milk substitutes, the rates of childhood illness and death from infectious diseases in the mother’s area of the world, and the incomplete understanding of the risk of HIV transmission through human milk. La Leche League International challenges the scientific community to undertake the research necessary to fully define the role of breastfeeding and human milk in HIV transmission and infant protection.

In general, for women who know they are HIV positive and where infant mortality is high, exclusive breastfeeding may result in fewer infant deaths than feeding breast milk substitutes and remains the preferred feeding approach. While breastfeeding where infant mortality is low may also carry a risk of HIV transmission for infants whose mothers test HIV positive, there is no clear, published evidence that feeding breast milk substitutes results in lower infant morbidity and mortality in any infants.

The social costs of not breastfeeding also must be considered. When a woman gives breast milk substitutes in a culture where breastfeeding is traditional, her community may suspect that she is HIV-positive, potentially putting her at risk for physical abuse, ostracism, and abandonment. In most parts of the world women do not know their HIV status, therefore ongoing support of exclusive breastfeeding is most appropriate and much needed.

While current scientific thinking accepts a risk of vertical transmission with breastfeeding in general, research studies that fully define the role of breastfeeding patterns (particularly exclusive breastfeeding and optimal breastfeeding management) and related maternal and child health on HIV transmission have not yet been done.

LLLI is not making a recommendation about breastfeeding for HIV positive mothers at this time due to the inconclusive nature of the research and its various interpretations.

The Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League International is committed to collecting and disseminating the most current, published information about HIV and human milk in order to facilitate the decision-making process. Interested parties may contact the CBI at (847) 519-7730 (email: cbi at llli.org; URL: www.lalecheleague.org/cbi/CBI.html for further information.

La Leche League International, founded in 1956, reaches over 200,000 women in 66 countries every month with information and mother-to-mother support. LLLI is recognized as the world's foremost authority on breastfeeding. Those seeking breastfeeding support and information may call their local La Leche League Group or 1-800-LA-LECHE or write to 957 N. Plum Grove Road, Schaumburg, IL 60168-5194 or visit our web site at www.llli.org.

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