Transmission from breastfeeding

HIV is present in breast milk – a bit like viral load in blood. The risk of infection comes because the virus in the milk most likely gets through the lining of the baby’s stomach (and other GI tract).

The immature gut in a young baby is much easier with get through compared to an adult. It is unclear whether damage to the gut of the baby could increase the risk of infection. This might happen with early introduction of other foods, particularly solid foods, or water – but this research was done in women who were not on ART.

In the UK, all HIV positive women are recommended to formula feed their babies to protect them from HIV.

The most important thing to know about vertical transmission is not how it happens, but how we can stop it. We can do this by both using ART and not breastfeeding.

Last updated: 1 December 2015.