Report underlines value of infant formula project

A new study has highlighted the challenges facing African mothers living with HIV in following official guidance to avoid breastfeeding.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) spoke to a group of mothers and found that the decision not to breastfeed came with significant emotional, social and financial pressures.

Although HIV treatments reduce the risk of transmitting the virus via breastfeeding to between 0-6%, the British HIV Association recommends the use of infant formula for HIV positive mothers.

Since 2011, Waverley Care has worked in partnership with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) to provide free infant formula to African mothers living with HIV in Glasgow. Women are referred to us by NHSGGC’s Brownlee Centre and we are able to provide them with tins of formula every month for the first year.

The findings of the UCL report echo the stories we hear.  The African 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 children’s long-term health.  There is also concern about being seen to go against cultural expectations within their own community. In the context of HIV stigma, some mothers are concerned that by not breastfeeding they could draw attention to their HIV status. Then there is simply the high cost of infant formula which is a significant barrier for low income mothers.

To address these concerns, alongside providing infant formula, our project also runs a peer support group where women in a similar position can share their experiences and draw strength from knowing they are not alone.  Feedback from the group has demonstrated the effectiveness of peer support to address concerns, leading to healthier mums and babies.

The UCL research underlines the needs that our infant formula project is there to address, and it’s great that their findings will focus attention on the issue.