Breastfeeding causes nearly 40 percent of all pediatric HIV infections, yet also prevents millions of child deaths every year by protecting infants from diarrhea and other infections. Finding ways to make breastfeeding safer for infants of HIV-infected mothers has been an urgent research priority. A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Zimbabwe and Harare (Zimbabwe) City Health Department found that exclusive breastfeeding substantially reduces the transmission of HIV from mother to infant and infant death, compared with partial breastfeeding. Infants who were introduced to solid foods or animal milk within the first three months were at four times greater risk of contracting HIV through breastfeeding compared to those who were exclusively breastfed. The study is published in the April 29, 2005, issue of AIDS.
“International guidelines currently recommend that HIV-infected mothers should avoid all breastfeeding, but only if replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe,” said Jean Humphrey, ScD, principal investigator of the ZVITAMBO Study Project and associate professor with the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School. “For the large majority of African women, this isn’t the case and breastfeeding is the only choice. Our findings indicate that for these mothers, delaying introduction of all non-breast milk foods will substantially reduce the risk of HIV and death for their infants.”
The study was conducted among 14,000 pairs of mothers and newborns who were part of the ZVITAMBO project, which examined the effects of vitamin A supplementation in Zimbabwe. From this group, the researchers followed 2,060 infants from birth to age 2 who were born to HIV-positive mothers. Information about infant feeding was collected at ages 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. All infants were breast fed, but were categorized as exclusive (breast milk only), predominant (breast milk and non-milk liquids) or mixed (breast milk and animal milk or solids) breastfeeding.
Tim Parsons | EurekAlert!
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