Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changes their breastfeeding policy for HIV-infected mothers

Without major announcement, in February 2023,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed their breastfeeding policy for HIV-infected mothers and no longer recommend advising against breastfeeding.

Photo by Paul Hanaoka

The new recommendation gets closer to the updated 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) guideline on HIV and infant feeding. Before 2010, “WHO guidance on HIV and infant feeding (UNICEF et al., 2003; WHO et al., 2006) recommended an individualized approach in which women living with HIV would be counselled on feeding options according to their household circumstances.”

The new CDC guideline acknowledges that, “For mothers on antiretroviral therapy (ART) with a sustained undetectable HIV viral load during pregnancy, the risk of transmission through breastfeeding is less than 1%, but not zero,” as determined in the PROMISE Study.

The guideline goes on to recommend “patient-centered, evidence-based counseling on infant feeding options, allowing for shared decision-making.” Read the full document here.

Organizations like the National Institute of Health Office of AIDS Research, the Infectious Disease Society of America and National Association of County and City Health Officials announced the new guidance, but it has gone largely unacknowledged in the field of lactation.

“This change in HIV policy serves as a reminder to always check sources. New research findings and policy reconsiderations make it imperative that the most up-to-date information is available to the families we serve,” Healthy Children Project’s Karin Cadwell PhD, RN, FAAN, IBCLC, ANLC comments.

Photo by Wren Meinberg

In the U.S., HIV diagnoses among women have declined in recent years; still, nearly 7,000 women received an HIV diagnosis in 2019. (The CDC has commented on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Data for 2020 should be interpreted with caution due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to HIV testing, care-related services, and case surveillance activities in state and local jurisdictions. While 2020 data on HIV diagnoses and prevention and care outcomes are available, we are not updating this web content with data from these reports.”)

How does the U.S. compare in their recommendations to other high-income countries?

The British HIV Assocation’s 2018 guidelines for the management of HIV in pregnancy and postpartum states that “Women who are virologically suppressed on cART with good adherence and who choose to breastfeed should be supported to do so, but should be informed about the low risk of transmission of HIV through breastfeeding in this situation and the requirement for extra maternal and infant clinical monitoring” among other recommendations for helping manage lactation in HIV-positive mothers.

Photo by Laura Garcia

A National Health Service (NHS) Greater Glasgow and Clyde document Management of infants born to HIV positive mothers reads: “There is now evidence from developing countries that breast feeding while mum’s viral load is fully suppressed is safe, and BHIVA/CHIVA no longer regard a decision to breast feed as grounds for referral to child protection services. For HIV positive women who choose to breast feed, maternal HAART should be carefully monitored and continued until one week after all breastfeeding has ceased. The mother’s viral load should be tested monthly to ensure that HIV virus remains undetectable; this testing will be undertaken by the obstetric/ID team. It is recommended that breastfeeding be exclusive, and completed by the end of 6 months.”

You can learn more about Canada’s approach here and Switzerland’s here.

For more, check out  Lacted’s Clinical Question and the CDC’s Preventing Perinatal HIV Transmission.

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