Breast milk and infection

Clin Perinatol. 2004 Sep;31(3):501-28. doi: 10.1016/j.clp.2004.03.019.


Three viruses (CMV, HIV, and HTLV-I) frequently cause infection or disease as a result of breast-milk transmission. Reasonable guidelines have been pro-posed for when and how to avoid breast milk in the case of maternal infection. For other viruses, prophylactic immune therapy to protect the infant against all modes of transmission are indicated (VZV, varicella-zoster immunoglobulin, HAV and immunoglobulin, HBV, and HBIg + HBV vaccine). In most maternal viral infections, breast milk is not an important mode of transmission, and continuation of breastfeeding is in the best interest of the infant and mother (see Tables 2 and 3). Maternal bacterial infections rarely are complicated by transmission of infection to their infants through breast milk. In a few situations, temporary cessation of breastfeeding or the avoidance of breast milk is appropriate for a limited time (24 hours for N gonorrheae, H infiuenzae, Group B streptococci, and staphylococci and longer for others including B burgdorferi, T pallidum, and M tuberculosis). In certain situations, prophylactic or empiric therapy may be advised for the infant (eg, T pallidum, M tuberculosis, H influenzae) (see Table 1). Antimicrobial use by the mother should not be a reason not to breastfeed. Alternative regimens that are compatible with breastfeeding can be chosen to treat the mother effectively. In most cases of suspected infection in the breastfeeding mother, the delay in seeking medical care and making the diagnosis means the infant has been ex-posed already. Stopping breastfeeding at this time only deprives the infant of the nutritional and potential immunologic benefits. Breastfeeding or the use of expressed breast milk, even if temporarily suspended, should be encouraged and supported. Decisions about breast milk and infection should balance the potential risk compared with the innumerable benefits of breast milk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / adverse effects*
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical*
  • Milk, Human* / immunology