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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Breastfeeding 'link' to HIV deaths
An Aids treatment centre
Breastfeeding is a demanding metabolic process
HIV infected mothers who breastfeed in less developed countries have been shown to be three times more likely to die within two years of giving birth than those who used formula food.

Scientists have suggested that the act of breastfeeding may increase the strain on vulnerable women.

But a UK expert has said there is "no evidence whatsoever" to link breastfeeding to a higher risk of death.

The study, carried out by scientists at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and the University of Washington in Seattle USA, examined records of mothers from Nairobi, Kenya.

Randomly assigned

Half were randomly assigned to breastfeed, the rest to use formula.

The average age was 23 and two-thirds were married.

Of the breastfeeding group, 150 were alive at the end of the study - two years after giving birth - and 18 had died.

Of the formula group, 161 were alive and six had died.

They were followed up monthly during the first year and quarterly during the second.

The women were also given questionnaires, and attempts were made to trace women who failed to attend appointments.

For those who died, hospital records or relatives were checked with to find out the cause of death.

In the paper, which is published in The Lancet, the researchers led by Dr Ruth Nduati suggested breastfeeding may put a strain on an HIV infected mother.


The women who breastfed lost more weight after giving birth. Those who died had lost a lot of weight.

"Lactation is a demanding metabolic process and might be especially detrimental for women who are infected with HIV," the paper said.

The researchers also suggest breastfeeding might have affected the way HIV reproduces itself.

But they admit the fact some women were not followed up could have affected the results, and accept that further research is required.

Dr Marie-Louise Newell, from the Institute of Child Health, told BBC News Online agreed that more research was needed.

She said: "Except possibly in cases of advanced HIV disease, there seems no reason why breastfeeding should increase the risk of death for HIV-infected women."

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08 Jul 99 | Aids
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