Exclusive breastfeeding needs to be supported

Amy Whiting, PATA Project Consultant to ABCD, discusses exclusive breastfeeding for young mothers living with HIV.

Facility-level experiences have shown that through treatment adherence, viral suppression, exclusive breastfeeding and personal vigilance, young mothers living with HIV have an opportunity to safely breastfeed their babies.  

The PATA Ask-Boost-Connect-Discuss (ABCD) programme promotes breastfeeding as part of its peer-led support group sessions with young mothers living with HIV.

The programme gives information on treatment adherence, provides psychosocial support for young mothers and provides them with a platform for sharing and discussing their breastfeeding experiences. It also shows the health, nutritional and cost benefits for young mothers.  

Although evidence points to the safety of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for people living with HIV (PLHIV), young mothers often need further reinforcement and support from their peers to encourage them to start.


The emotional and psychosocial aspect of breastfeeding is often left unattended and this inadvertently leads to poor uptake.

The ABCD programme provides this network of young mothers emotional support and empathy and shows first-hand the benefits of breastfeeding through peer-led discussions. Addressing the psychosocial aspect of breastfeeding, the fears and/or concerns in a safe space is key to seeing improved rates of EBF amongst young mothers living with HIV.

The WHO and UNICEF guidelines on HIV and infant feeding recommend that mothers living with HIV should breastfeed for at least 12 months and may continue breastfeeding for up to 24 months longer whilst being fully supported by ART adherence. The guidelines also stipulate: Authorities should coordinate and implement services to promote, support and facilitate mothers living with HIV who are breastfeeding.







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