Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for women living with HIV (WLWH) in low-income—but not in high-income—countries, where milk substitutes are preferred. Some guidelines for high-income countries opted for a shared decision-making process regarding breastfeeding in optimal scenarios with adherence to antiretroviral therapy (cART), suppressed maternal viral load (mVL), and clinical monitoring. Although vertical transmission (VT) risk under cART is estimated below 1% in low-income settings, data from high-income countries are rare.
We retrospectively analyzed all 181 live births from WLWH at the LMU Munich university hospital perinatal center in Germany between January 2016 and December 2020. We focused on VT, suppressed mVL and optimal scenario rates, breastfeeding frequency, cART regimens, and infant prophylaxis. All women were counseled according to current guidelines, foremost recommending avoidance of breastfeeding.
In the 5-year cohort, no VT was observed. One hundred fifty-one WLWH (83.4%) decided not to breastfeed, even in optimal scenarios. Thrity infants (16.6%) were nursed, of which 25 were within an optimal scenario, whereas in 5 cases, breastfeeding was performed with a detectable VL in pregnancy or the postpartum period. All WLWH were treated with cART at delivery, and 91.7% sustained suppressed mVL. Zidovudine infant prophylaxis was given between 2 and 8 weeks but not necessarily over the whole breastfeeding duration and was declined from 5 breastfeeding WLWH.
Although the cohort is too small to assess VT risk through breastfeeding with cART-suppressed mVL, breastfeeding might be an alternative even in high-income countries, but further studies are needed.