Living with HIV and breastfeeding
Breastfeeding has a lot of benefits for the baby and it is highly recommended by doctors and healthcare providers. But when you’re living with HIV, the thought of possibly infecting your child can be quite stressful. It doesn’t have to be though - because regardless of your HIV status, you can still breastfeed your baby. Here’s more.
The benefits of breastfeeding
Breast milk is nutritious and it offers your baby the immune support it needs to grow and develop properly within the first few months. It is a more reliable source of food that contains antibodies which help prevent common illnesses like diarrhoea, for example.
Tips to breastfeed safely
If you’re pregnant and living with HIV, then you have to be on antiretroviral treatment (ART) (that’s if you’re not taking your treatment already). Take the medication as prescribed - because that will minimise the risk of you passing the virus on to your child. It’s also really important to go to follow-up appointments to monitor your baby’s health while you breastfeed.
How to keep your baby healthy
Right after birth, your doctor should recommend HIV treatment medication for your child - like a syrup called nevirapine (for six weeks) in order to prevent transmission.
Another thing, your doctor might prescribe other treatment options for the baby or you may have to give your baby the nevirapine syrup for more than six weeks.
Your doctor or healthcare provider will advise that your baby will have to take an HIV test at around 4 to 6 weeks when you finish breastfeeding, and again at 18 months.
How to stay healthy while breastfeeding
HIV weakens your immune system so other opportunistic infections can take advantage and get you ill - which is why it’s important for you to stay healthy and strong so you can breastfeed your child freely. Here are a few ways you can stay healthy:
- Take your ARV medication as prescribed by your healthcare provider
- Rest as much as you can
- Live a healthy lifestyle and eat healthily
- Try to avoid getting cracked nipples. If you find that your nipples bleed or develop any sores, speak to your healthcare provider as soon as possible
Living with HIV doesn’t have to restrict you or mean you have to pass it onto your unborn child. All you have to do is make sure you ask your doctor or healthcare provider as many questions as you can so you can continue making informed decisions while you protect your baby from being born with HIV. While you’re at it, you shouldn’t stop taking your treatment or going for your check-ups.
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