If you are HIV-positive, it means that you have been exposed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The blood and certain other body fluids of HIV-positive people contain antibodies to HIV.
More importantly, HIV-positive people and people with AIDS may have detectable levels of HIV virus in their blood and certain other body fluids, including breast milk. Some babies that are born to HIV-positive women and women with AIDS may have HIV in their body at birth and can develop AIDS.
The risk of an HIV-positive woman or woman with AIDS passing the HIV to her baby through breastfeeding depends upon the amount (called level or titer) of HIV in her breast milk. An infant or child who is exposed to HIV through the breast milk of its mother may become HIV-positive and can develop AIDS.
Thus, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that HIV-positive women in the U.S. and women with AIDS in the U.S. should not breastfeed their infants and children (reference 1). Regardless of where you live, if you are HIV-positive or have AIDS, you should discuss the important concern about the level of HIV in your breast milk with your doctors and other healthcare providers before any decision about breastfeeding is made.
In addition, some HIV-positive women and many women with AIDS are treated with powerful medications, including anti-retroviral drugs, which can have serious side effects. Certain medications may be able to enter the breast milk and could harm a baby who is being nursed. In order to ensure the safety of their babies, women who are being treated for HIV infection or AIDS should discuss this important concern about medication entering breast milk with their doctors and other healthcare providers.
After being fully informed about these issues by talking with your doctor and your other healthcare providers, you can make the right decision for you and your baby.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2005; 115(2):496-505.