Catherine Murombedzi —
MANY breastfeeding mothers who are HIV positive find it hard to breast feed. They are afraid of infecting the baby through breast milk. It is, however, safe to breast feed as breast milk is a complete food for the baby in the first six months.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care encourages absolute breast feeding for babies for the first six months
Dr Agnes Mahomva of the Elisabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation said exposed babies were at risk of acquiring HIV from their HIV positive mothers.
“A baby born by an HIV positive mother is at risk of getting infected when in the womb, at birth and during breastfeeding,” said Dr Mahomva.
“We put the mother on highly active antiretroviral therapy to cut off infection risk. So pregnant mothers are advised to book for ante-natal clinic early so that they are tested for HIV and other infections. It is possible to give birth to an HIV negative baby,” said Dr Mahomva.
Less than five percent of babies in Zimbabwe are now born HIV positive. The country strives to have no baby born infected.
Speaking to breast feeding mothers on ARVs mixed feelings were noted.
Mrs Chipo Chipanga said she was scared to breast feed her baby, but had no choice since milk formula is expensive.
“I breast feed though I am afraid of infecting my baby. I heard from nurses that it is safe, but am a troubled soul. Back in my mind I ask what if the child gets infected, what will I do? There was no option as I could not afford to buy the formula. We are left in a dilemma and this is bad for the baby, so I will take the nurses’ advice,” said Mrs Chipanga.
Ms Loraine Zendo a young mother, said she had read on the Internet that it was not safe to breastfeed when HIV positive so she was not taking risks.
“I have read on the Internet that chances are there of infecting the baby, so I am not taking any risk,” said Ms Zendo.
Mrs Farai Chana who has given birth to two HIV negative babies while on ARVs said it was safe to breastfeed.
“I have given birth to two HIV negative babies while exclusively breastfeeding. It is safe to do so. Some mothers who failed to do so ended up having ill babies. I am speaking from experience, please breast feed, it is healthy and safe,” said Mrs Chana.
Many lactating mothers end up giving babies under the age of six months water, fruit juices and porridge. The baby’s digestion system will not yet be able to digest such foods and the baby will end up having diarrhoea.
The recently ended Science Conference on HIV in Paris France shed light on being positive and breast feeding.
Study of dapivirine ring in lactating women finds little drug gets into breast milk.
The anti retroviral drug dapivirine contained in a vaginal ring for HIV prevention, is absorbed in very low concentrations into breastmilk, according to a study of the dapivirine ring in women who were no longer nursing their babies but still producing milk.
Researchers are now planning studies of the ring in African women who are breastfeeding as well as during pregnancy, when there may be a greater risk of acquiring HIV.