Formula for success

A recent report from the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and Body & Soul, found that mothers living with HIV and on low incomes often go hungry to pay for formula milk.

We contributed evidence to the report and, here, we look at the infant formula projects we run to support new mums, with funding from NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde and NHS  Lothian.

To prevent HIV transmission to infants through breastfeeding, official guidelines recommend that mothers living with the condition exclusively formula feed their babies.

It’s an expensive option. Research by the consumer group, Which?, estimates the cost of formula milk at £370-£400 for a year. That’s before you factor in additional costs for equipment like bottles and sterilizers.

Under our infant formula projects, mothers living with HIV can access 4 tins of formula per month, for 12 months. This is usually enough to cover all feeding, but additional support is available if required. We also supply free bottles and a sterilizing machine.

The projects are open to women living with HIV who are facing financial hardship, including those on low incomes, unemployed or seeking asylum, who would otherwise struggle to pay for formula.

But the impact of the projects go beyond financial savings, supporting mothers with the social and emotional pressures linked to formula feeding.

Women we support have spoken of their anxiety about the implications of not breastfeeding in terms of the emotional bond with their child and the impact on health. In African communities, where breastfeeding is the norm, some mothers have also expressed concern that by not breastfeeding they could draw attention to their HIV status.

To help address these concerns, we run mother and toddler groups where mothers can meet up and share their experiences. Through these groups, we can also answer people’s questions and reassure them about the health benefits of choosing to formula feed their baby.

We are pleased that the NAT and Body & Soul report is drawing attention to this issue, and that our work is helping to alleviate the pressures that the report identifies.

Infant formula is just one aspect of action to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV in Scotland. During pregnancy itself, all women are offered an HIV test to determine their HIV status. Where a mother-to-be is diagnosed with HIV, she can be started on effective treatment to manage the condition, which reduces the risk of transmission to the baby to just 0.1%. The birth of the baby will also be managed to reduce the risk of transmission.

Thanks to these interventions, HIV is no longer a barrier to starting a family. If you would like to find out more about HIV and pregnancy, check out this factsheet produced by NAM.