Sexual Health news - HIV

Breastfeeding may prevent perinatal HIV transmission

HIV-positive women who are also pregnant are at risk for spreading the virus to their baby through perinatal transmission. It has previously been thought that this may occur during pregnancy, the labor and delivery process, or breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, breastfeeding may, in fact, reduce the likelihood of a mother infecting her child, even when she is not taking antiretroviral therapy drugs. Researchers looked specifically at bioactive molecules, called human milk oligosaccharides (HMO), which are in breast milk and may be responsible for this mechanism. After following approximately 200 infected women from the time they gave birth until two years later, they found that only 10 to 15 percent of infants acquired the virus perinatally.

There are typically high concentrations of HMO in breast milk. However, when consumed, the molecules are not digestible and therefore tend to stay in the gastrointestinal tract where they act as prebiotics and promote the growth of good bacteria.

The babies whose mothers had significant levels of HMO did not acquire HIV. Researchers hope to conduct further studies to help them understand how exactly the molecule reduces the likelihood of transmission.

The most recent year that the CDC reported data on perinatal transmissions of HIV in the U.S. was 2005, when 142 children younger than 13 were diagnosed with HIV, which they acquired from their mothers.

Women represent 24 percent of all HIV diagnoses in the country, some of whom could get pregnant and put their prospective son or daughter at risk, according to the federal agency. These individuals can be prescribed anti-HIV medications during pregnancy to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Also, during labor and delivery, they can receive intravenous AZT for further protection.