I received a question the other day on this website about what feeding options moms have when they are HIV positive. It’s an amazing question for a few reasons. The answer really depends upon where in the world the mother lives.
Because breastmilk is a bodily fluid, it can transmit the virus. There’s evidence that the longer a mom with HIV breastfeeds, the more likely her baby is to get the virus. Transmission can occur from labor and delivery and it also occur from breastfeeding.
Safe Water is the Issue
When women are living in developed countries with safe water and infant formulas that are readily available and safe, then using formula is the best option. On the other hand, the situation gets more murky when the mother lives in a country where the water isn’t safe and there isn’t readily available infant formula.
In those situations, the baby has a higher risk of developing life-threatening diarrhea. We know that in developing countries, where the water isn’t safe to drink, that diarrhea and dehydration accounts for too many babies becoming sick and dying. In general, in those countries, breastfeeding is best, but when you add the added risk of HIV transmission, mothers are forced to make a terrible choice: Risk transmitting HIV or worry about whether they can obtain clean water and safe formula.
It’s a choice no mother should have to make. There are many clean water projects in developing countries that are making a difference, one well at a time. I personally donate to Heifer.org and Water.org to help make clean water a reality for more women and children.