‘Mothers known to be HIV-infected should exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life, introducing appropriate complementary foods thereafter, and continue breastfeeding for the first 12 months of life,’ said former UKZN’s Head of Child Health Unit, Professor Nigel Rollins.
Rollins, Director of the Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization (WHO) was presenting a talk titled: “HIV and Infant Feeding: 2016 Updated WHO Guidelines” at UKZN’s Medical School.
He said breastfeeding should then only stop once a nutritionally adequate and safe diet without breast milk can be provided.
The guideline was updated from the 2010 guideline with the key recommendation being the breastfeeding of all children born to HIV-infected mothers for the first 12 months of life.
He suggested that breastfeeding continued until the age of two years and should be supported by ART adherence strategies.
He stressed the importance and the effectiveness of ART in reducing transmission risk to the baby. ‘Breastfeeding is not only critical for the nutrition of the baby but has other implications in terms of reduction of mortality in children saving over 800 000 lives per year for children under five years,’ Rollins explained.
He said the other benefits of breastfeeding included improved bonding, reduction of maternal breast and ovarian cancer in mothers and immune protective effects of breastfeeding.
He also addressed the issue of healthcare workers, saying they play a central role in the programmatic support and strengthening of breastfeeding in the community. He emphasised the importance of education around breastfeeding in the context of HIV, myths and lack of information being the fundamental barriers to breastfeeding support programmes at all levels of care.