breastfeeding and HIV - "Just one bottle"

A few years ago, I was a speaker at a La Leche League conference in Georgia. While there, I was lucky enough to get to meet one of the "founding mothers" of La Leche League, and spend some time talking with her.

She told me that she was working on a project to support and publicize some very early research indicating that exclusive breastfeeding actally protects babies against HIV, even when their mothers are infected. She explained that this point of view was very controversial, because conventional wisdom held that HIV-infected mothers should never breastfeed, and the infant formula comanies were using this point of view to launch massive new marketing campaigns in countries with high rates of HIV infection.

Several years later, NEW RESEARCH is confirming what this woman told me she believed would eventually be proved: exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months - even by HIV-infected mothers - lowers HIV infection rates in babies.

The almost miraculous anti-infective properties of human breastmilk fight off the HIV virus, while avoidance any supplementary formula, milk, or foods in the first months helps to protect "the integrity of (babies') intestinal mucosa, which thereby presents a more effective barrier to HIV."

Not only is this information going to save a lot of lives in the developing world, it offers clear insight in our own culture as to how breastfeeding protects our own babies from disease in the first months and why EVEN A FEW BOTTLES of infant formula can interfere with the disease-fighting properties of breastmilk.

The GI tracts of infants are designed for human breastmilk and only human breastmilk. Human breastmilk coats the immature (and sterile) GI tract with actively anti-infective protection, which helps the baby fight off pathogens in the early months.

Infant formula disturbs the sterile GI tract and irritates the protective mucosa coating. It actually introduces pathogens, while offering none of the active disease-fighting properties of living human breastmilk.


ErinOrtlund said...

That is amazing!

I was upset with one of the nurses who helped me with DS in the middle of the night in the hospital (Canada). I could barely see, and she thought splashing a bit of formula on his lips would encourage him to open up and latch on to the nipple! I was so surprised by it! But what could I do--it was done. In the end, my milk didn't come in fully for 5 days (I had a csection) and they had me supplement a few bottles. I really didn't want to, but he had lost more than 10% of his body weight. Even the lactation consultant said the risks of formula didn't outweigh the risks of him losing more weight. What do you all think?

katie allison granju said...

Every situation is different, and there are certainly times when infant formula is the appropriate choice for a baby and mother.

But we would have healthier babiea and mothers if in general, infant formula wasn't offered so readily to babies, and women got better support, information and guidance with breastfeeding.

clara said...

I always thought this made sense too. When a nursing mother has the flu the baby gets the antibodies and doesn't get the flu. Why wouldn't HIV work the same way?

Anonymous said...

Does this hold true for women in the US, for example? The study was based on women in Africa. I was reading the comments left on blogging baby and several of them said that formula was still the first choice in areas where access to clean water and formula weren't problems.
(But the article wasn't talking about mortality-it said babies with formula or solids were more likely to contract the disease. Am I correct?)

Naomi said...

It's my impression that anything that isn't breastmilk (not just formula) will cause the baby's gut to no longer be pristine. Does that include medications, like infant Tylenol (routinely offered to babies before vaccinations, to alleviate the soreness and fever that often results) or the various medications sometimes tried on babies with colic? Because I exclusively breastfed both my babies as infants, but that doesn't mean that nothing other than breastmilk went down their throat.