Why HIV-infected mothers shouldn’t breastfeed their babies

Breastfeeding helps keep babies healthy. But breastfeeding when you’re HIV positive can transmit the infection to your baby. An estimated 1.8 million children worldwide are HIV positive. Most infections were transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, labor, birth, or breastfeeding. Breastfeeding accounts for one-third to one-half of all cases of mother-to-child HIV transmission in places where antiretroviral therapy isn’t available and babies are breastfed for prolonged periods of time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that HIV-infected women in the United States not breastfeed, and many leading health authorities agree. That’s because the risk of infection with breastfeeding can never be reduced to zero. Even for HIV-positive mothers undergoing antiretroviral treatment, breastfeeding results in 1 out of every 100 babies becoming HIV positive. So bottle-feeding, with either formula or breast milk from a milk bank, is the safest and best way for HIV-positive mothers in the United States to feed their infants. 

To learn more about bottle-feeding your baby, including establishing a close bond through responsiveness and time spent together, read here. How you choose to feed your baby won’t determine the bond you create. You and your baby will grow close through the experiences you share.

Last updated January 22, 2022

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