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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
During the first week of April each year, the American Public Health Association (APHA) brings together communities to observeNational Public Health Week. This year’s theme is Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health and highlights the importance of fostering cultural connections to health and quality of life.
Last month, we celebrated National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics which highlights the importance of making informed food choices across the lifespan.
The initiative is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (CDC/DNPAO). NACCHO selected seven communities to strengthen community lactation support through the implementation of the Continuity of Care in Breastfeeding Support: A Blueprint for Communities from November 2022 to July 2023. The purpose of this project is to support the implementation of CoC strategies by local-level organizations among oppressed communities with historically low rates of chest/breastfeeding. [https://www.naccho.org/programs/community-health/maternal-child-adolescent-health/breastfeeding-support#early-childhood-nutrition]
The dietary resources which include an Educational Handout from Dietary Guidelines, Nutrition Resource Directory, and social media posts can be found here, available in English, Chinese and Vietnamese. The materials include a dietary guidelines hand out with two toddler-friendly recipes (with a fun suggestion to use green onion to decorate steamed eggs), three social media messages with a timeline for infant feeding, human milk recommendations, and complementary food recommendations, all commonly eaten in Asian communities. The deliverables are full of color and easy to navigate.
Li, Young and their team’s work was community-informed, standing by the sentiment, “Nothing about us, without us.” The team spoke with community members about eating habits and learned that families do not eat according to the MyPlate graphic. Instead, they enjoy their meals in family-style servings from bowls. Recipes developed were tested by community members with children and tailored according to their suggestions; for example, the addition of different dipping sauces.
Participants also offered feedback stating that they appreciated the accessibility of the ingredients.
–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…” When we initially curated this series, we planned for 10 weeks, but breastfeeding is so many things that we just couldn’t fit it all in. Thus, two bonus weeks in our anniversary series! —
Breastfeeding is not binary.
There’s solid evidence that direct breastfeeding offers the most protective and beneficial effects to mothers, babies and ultimately society.
When breastfeeding, a baby’s saliva transfers chemicals to their mother’s body that causes her milk to adjust to meet the changing needs of the baby. [Al-Shehri, et al 2015]
Even more fascinating, the combination of baby saliva and fresh breastmilk generates enough hydrogen peroxide to inhibit growth of Staphylococcus and Salmonella. Read about the science behind it allhere.
Breastfeeding encourages proper mouth and jaw development and promotes oral health.
When babies breastfeed, they are less likely to become obese for reasons like self-regulation of milk intake and seeding of their gut microbiomes. [Pérez-Escamilla, 2016]
Infants at the breast, compared to bottle-fed infants, have better heart and respiratory rates and higher oxygen saturation rates because breastfeeding consumes less energy.
Breastfeeding has implications on mother-infant bonding and children’s future behavior. One study found that “compared to children whose mothers breastfed them, children who were not breastfed showed an increased number of internalizing behavioral problems, particularly anxious/depressed and somatic symptoms… A duration effect (dosage effect) appeared such that breastfeeding for 10 months or longer had the strongest impact on reducing anxious/depressed and somatic symptoms in children.”
Direct breastfeeding does not require feeding paraphernalia that may be vectors for disease.
Even if the contents of a bottle contain human milk, the effects achieved through direct breastfeeding may not be possible.
However, the reality of families’ lives, and sometimes choice, mean that most babies in the U.S. will not exclusively breastfeed or go on to breastfeed in conjunction with appropriate complementary feeding as recommended.
The most recent CDC Breastfeeding Report Card acknowledges, “Numerous barriers to breastfeeding remain, and disparities persist in breastfeeding duration and exclusivity rates by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Policy, systems, and environmental changes that address breastfeeding barriers, such as better maternity care practices, paid leave policies, and supportive ECE centers, can help to improve breastfeeding rates and reduce disparities.”
Fiona Jardine and Aiden Farrow present experiences that do not fit into how we often generalize the infant feeding experience.
Jardine’s work follows those who exclusively pump human milk. Farrow too pumped milk for their child born with cleft complications and then went on to directly chestfeed their baby.
Farrow has explained: “Feeding methods are not mutually exclusive. There are always windows and doors.”
Lactation care providers, other care providers, health policies and procedures must all acknowledge the incredibly diverse experiences of families while honoring the very ubiquitous human desire that we all want what’s best for our babies.
Our 10-year anniversary giveaway has ended. Thank you to everyone who participated!
Kathleen Kendall Tackett’s work also illuminates how breastfeeding can heal trauma. Her videos, How Birth Trauma Affects Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Can Heal Birth Trauma and Breastfeeding’s Healing Impact on Sexual Assault Trauma discuss the mechanisms behind why and how breastfeeding can be helpful for trauma survivors. Essentially, breastfeeding allows for the down regulation of stress responses, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol, and similar to exercise, improves maternal mood, decreases the risk of depression, decreases hostility, and improves the mother infant bond.
Jennie Toland, BSN, RN, CLC offers commentary on the role lactation care providers play in offering trauma-informed care in this piece.
This Invisibila episode, Therapy Ghostbusters, shares the incredible story of how a Cambodian practitioner worked to help heal an entire community from generational trauma. It took him over a year to simply earn individuals’ trust.
“…That’s pretty unique,” the podcast hosts point out and offers insight into how our nation approaches care for individuals with specific mental health needs and cultural considerations.
Goldhammer quotes Round Rock elder Annie Kahn: “When a mother nurses her baby, she is giving that child her name, her story and her life’s song. A nursed baby will grow to be strong in body, mind and spirit.”
This connection to the past that Kahn refers to, also offers a form of healing. Breastfeeding is an example of Indigenous food sovereignty, “a part of living culture” and facilitates the revitalization of traditional knowledge. (Cidro, et al 2018)
The revitalization of breastfeeding spans the Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) experience and is a channel to champion equity.
“Breastfeeding is an especially important public health issue in Black communities, particularly given that Black families and communities continue to experience the highest burden related to poor maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher incidence of preterm birth, low birth weight, maternal mortality and morbidity, infant mortality, and lower breastfeeding rates. Owing to lifetime exposure of racism, bias, and stress, Black women experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and aggressive breast cancer. Given that cardiovascular disease and postpartum hemorrhage are leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, increasing breastfeeding rates among Black women can potentially save lives.”
More specifically, studies show that the experience of racial discrimination accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the cell) and ultimately contributes to an increase in people’s risks of developing diseases.
It has been found that higher anxiety scores and inflammation are associated with shorter telomere length.
Because physical and psychological stressors trigger the inflammatory response system, one way to counter this reaction is by supporting ongoing breastfeeding relationships; when breastfeeding is going well, it protects mothers from stress. (Kendall-Tackett, 2007)
Another study found that early exclusive breastfeeding is associated with longer telomeres in children.
The authors of Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future continue, “Yet breastfeeding is rarely seen as a women’s health, reproductive health, or a public health strategy to address or reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S. Inequities in lactation support and breastfeeding education exacerbate health inequities experienced by Black women, specifically maternal mortality and morbidity, and thus a greater investment in perinatal lactation and breastfeeding education and resources is warranted. Breastfeeding is an essential part of women’s reproductive health.”
Journalist and maternal child health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers’ approach is one “For Black people, from Black people.”
“…The call to revive, restore and reclaim Black breastfeeding is an internal call to action,” Kimberly Seals Allers begins in Black Breastfeeding Is a Racial Equity Issue. “… Breastfeeding is our social justice movement as we declare the health and vitality of our infants as critical to the health and vitality of our communities.”
Specifically through her work with Narrative Nation, Seals Allers and colleagues are promoting health equity “by democratizing how the story of health disparities is told,” centering BIPOC voices. Additionally, through her Birthright podcast, KSA uplifts stories of joy and healing in Black birth.
Especially after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, organizations made statements about their commitments to dismantling structural racism and focusing efforts on equity.
As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:
Email email@example.com with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.
This week, in the body of the email, tell us about how you are contributing to working toward healthy equity.
Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.
We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period. Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.
When a gas-powered vehicle is low on fuel, it’ll often show signs of fuel starvation like a sputtering engine and intermittent power surges. Eventually, when the engine dies completely, the hydraulic power to the brakes and steering lose power too. Steering and stopping is still possible at this point, but it requires greater effort.
“It feels good to give,” she begins, speaking from the perspective of lactation care provider. “But you can only give so much.”
Learning to sense the feelings and sensations that warn us of burnout, is like filling up the gas tank when it hits a quarter tank.
“Keep an eye on your gas tank,” BhaduriHauck advises.
This wisdom of self-discipline, knowing when to stop giving to others so that one can give to themselves, allows for a healthy care provider/client relationship.
Liba Chaya Golman, CLC with lev lactation shared her struggle after a particular session: “I just met with a dyad dealing with weight loss and low supply and while we have a short term plan and pediatrician involvement, I am feeling so emotionally spent after the consultation. I’m empathetic by nature and became a CLC after my own difficult breastfeeding experience. I feel capable of managing the situation and have people to refer to and rely on, but came home and cried after the visit.” Soliciting tips for lactation provider self-care, BhaduriHauck offered up some suggestions.
“I find therapy to be an amazing self-care tool, especially when client situations trigger my own traumas,” she shared. “The situations that hit us the hardest shed light on the areas inside of ourselves that need some tender attention.”
BhaduriHauck endured traumatic birth experiences herself, like so many maternal child health care providers who are drawn to this work because of personal challenges that they endured.
After slogging through our mental health system, BhaduriHauck eventually connected with a trauma-informed therapist specializing in EMDR and a perinatal mental health specialist. Later, BhaduriHauck pursued training as a postpartum doula.
“Doing that work and learning how to help other people also helped me help myself,” she explains. “You have to have healed enough of your own emotional stuff to put it down and to pick up someone else’s, but in learning to help others, I was also learning how to support myself.”
She continues that journaling allows care providers to give their feelings space and “attention to be seen and articulated.”
“Sometimes I just need the space to express them before I can let them go,” she shares.
Affirmations are another avenue of self-care for care providers to explore.
BhaduriHauck uses this one most often: This work isn’t about its outcomes. It’s about making a difference.
“Over-giving/over-investing is something I fall into naturally, and I have to work at creating distance between a client’s situation and my responsibility to it,” she explains. “Reminding myself that me just doing my job, makes a world of difference to the client [and] helps me release some of the big feelings I’m holding onto about the client’s situation.”
BhaduriHauck acknowledges two types of processing: active and passive.
Going to therapy, having someone who is trained in validating and providing empathy, is an example of active processing. When our feelings are “infused with empathy,” as BhaduriHauck puts it, “we can put them away inside ourselves softer.” The opposite of this can happen if we have not chosen the listener appropriately, she warns.
Passive processing sometimes comes in the form of slowing our pace and down regulating our nervous systems. For BhaduriHauck, she finds a calmer state of being by going for a walk, snuggling her dog, or taking a hot bath. In these scenarios, she might not be actively processing trauma or emotions, but she’s giving her body space.
Intentionality in practice can help preserve mental health, and allow a care provider to be a more effective support person too. BhaduriHauck suggests checking in with oneself, “Am I doing this in service of the client, or in service to myself?” If it’s the latter, there are better avenues to pursue the boost of “feeling good by doing good” and/or getting the assurance that “my knowledge is valuable”.
BhaduriHauck shares some final thoughts on mental health as a lactation care provider. “The emotional learning I’ve done in becoming a care provider and overcoming my own struggles, they’ve gone hand in hand. My experiences help other people and others’ experiences have helped me in learning emotional management techniques. When I talk to parents… I can listen without it triggering past traumas.”
She goes on, effective care requires the provider to have trained themselves to embrace the emotional component of the work in ways that are in service to their clients.
In 2021, the CDC issued a call to action to protect health care workers’ mental health. You can find that information here.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources for Health Care Professionals including peer and professional support options. Find those resources listed here.
Praeclarus Press offers Burnout, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Moral Injury in Maternity Care Providers, an opportunity to learn about the stresses of maternity care and how to care for yourself on the job. Learn about the course here.
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