Dec 2022 edition

What HIV positive breastfeeding moms should know

With South Africa observing World Aids Day on the 1st of December, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has advised HIV positive mothers to consider breastfeeding their babies exclusively for six months.

According to the department, if you are an HIV positive breastfeeding mother, it is important to discuss feeding choices with your HIV counsellor.

If you choose to breastfeed, be sure to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.

Research has shown that the baby has very little chance of getting HIV from breastmilk if the mother exclusively breastfeeds. 

During the months that you are pregnant, and breastfeeding, be sure to use a condom during sexual intercourse to prevent any new infection. If you have any problems such a painful nipples or breasts, be sure to go the clinic early for help.

The department strongly recommends exclusive breastfeeding because it helps the baby develop a stronger immune system, and a stronger bond between mother and baby. Breastfeeding also reduces the mother’s risks of developing breast cancer.

Breastfeeding myths and facts

There are several myths associated with breastfeeding, the department debunked these myths by answering the following frequently asked questions by mothers who are HIV positive and those who are not HIV positive.

Question: My neighbour said that I should get some medicine to clean my baby's stomach. Is this important?

Answer: Colostrum, which is the first form of breastmilk that is released by the mammary glands after giving birth, cleans the meconium from the stomach. You will not need any medicines for further cleaning as breastmilk is clean, and actually lines the stomach, protecting it from bacteria

Question: In the first few days, if I do not have enough milk, can I give water or other milk as well?

Answer: The colostrum is all the baby needs. You just need to feed the baby often so that the milk will come in - you make lots of milk that way. Ask the midwife to give you your baby within the first half hour after birth, so you can put the baby to the breast. The baby will learn quickly how to suckle and this will help you to make more milk.

Question: I am giving breastmilk, but the baby is not satisfied. Do I need to give formula as well?

Answer: No, you can make more milk by feeding the baby more often. Allow the baby time to drink until satisfied on one breast to make sure the baby gets hindmilk which is the is the milk your baby gets at the end of a feed. The more the baby suckles, the more milk is made.

Question: My baby wants to feed so often maybe I don't have enough milk?

Answer: Maybe the baby is growing quickly, and so needs more milk. By feeding often, you can make enough milk for their needs. The milk will not run out. Allow extra time for the baby to suckle - don't pull the baby off the breast. If a baby has more than six wet nappies every day, is being fed often (at least 8-12 times every day), and the baby is gaining at least 500g every month, then you are making enough milk.

Question: If my baby cries often, what do I do?

Answer: Comfort your baby by putting them to the breast more often. Babies need to be close to their mothers. Mothers and babies sharing the same room will encourage this. If your baby is hungry, thirsty or upset, suckling at the breast will satisfy them. It is unlikely that you will overfeed your baby when giving breastmilk only.

Question: Is it good to give other drinks?

Answer: No, adding other drinks means that the baby is more likely to get diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. Also, if the baby has other drinks, they won't suckle as often and you won't make enough milk.

Question: Doesn't the baby need water when it is hot?

Answer: No, the first milk (foremilk) has lots of water and quenches the baby's thirst. Just make sure you feed your baby often in hot weather.

Question: When should I add other foods?

Answer: After six months, continue breastfeeding as before, but add other foods as well. The baby is only ready to start learning about eating after 6 months.

This information was supplied by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of health


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