The main current public-health research question is whether breastfeeding by HIV-infected mothers can be made safer as to transmission risk, given the possible adverse effects of refraining from breastfeeding. Various ongoing or planned trials and studies concern either mode of infant feeding (exclusive or mixed) or antiretroviral therapy to either the mother or the infant over the breastfeeding period.
Other related topics on which research is under way or planned are: the mechanisms of breastfeeding transmission, in particular the parts played by cell-free and cell-associated HIV; the association between virus levels in plasma and milk; the possibly protective effect of HIV-specific cells with immune function in the breast milk of HIV-infected women; the correlation between risk of transmission and the presence of anti-infective substances in the breast milk of HIV-infected women, including immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, and mucins; the effect of antiretroviral prophylaxis on either the uninfected infant or the breastfeeding mother; whether, or to what extent, the protection against common childhood infections normally conferred by breastfeeding applies to breastfeeding of HIV-infected infants by HIV-infected mothers; survival rates associated with the various treatment modalities; and assessment of the health benefits of nutritional support to breastfeeding HIV-infected women.
Disruption of the epithelial integrity of the mucous membranes of the infant's mouth or intestine (caused by nutritional or infectious factors such as mixed feeding and oral thrush), nipple fissures or clinical or sub-clinical mastitis may increase the risk of transmission through breastfeeding. Current research is investigating this possible association, its strength, and its possible impact on public health.
Was this article helpful?
For many years, scientists have been playing out the ingredients that make breast milk the perfect food for babies. They've discovered to day over 200 close compounds to fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid in digestion, and support brain growth - nature made properties that science simply cannot copy. The important long term benefits of breast feeding include reduced risk of asthma, allergies, obesity, and some forms of childhood cancer. The more that scientists continue to learn, the better breast milk looks.