Because HIV can be transmitted through breast milk, it is recommended that women living with HIV do not breastfeed their babies. This recommendation applies to all women living with HIV, regardless of whether they are on antiretroviral medication or have a low viral load.
Formula feeding is a healthy option that many women, with HIV and without, turn to for a variety of reasons. Generations of people have been formula fed and grown up to be healthy and well adjusted.
Oak Tree Clinic has a program that provides free formula for infants born in British Columbia to mothers living with HIV.
Some women see the opportunity in formula feeding. You can schedule feedings more easily, sleep or take a break while someone else feeds the baby, and have other members of your family share in the experience of feeding the baby.
You can also eat what you want without worrying about how it will affect the baby. You’ll know exactly how much your baby has eaten by measuring what goes in and out of the bottle, and you’ll know what nutrients the baby is getting by deciding on a formula.
Some women mourn the loss of breastfeeding. But know that you can still bond strongly with your baby. Making eye contact, holding your baby, and talking and singing to your baby are a few of the ways that a close relationship is formed between a baby and mother.
By not breastfeeding, women living with HIV may experience disapproval or confusion from people. If people hassle you about why you aren’t breastfeeding and you don’t want to share your HIV-positive status with them, that’s okay. There are many other reasons why women may not breastfeed. You can say you are taking medications that aren’t compatible with breastfeeding (one woman used her migraine medication as an excuse), or you can say that you’re not producing enough milk, or you can say that the baby wouldn’t latch onto the nipple.