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HEALTH REPORT - Drug Shown to Cut HIV Risk in Breastfed Babies

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

We talked last week about the value of breastfeeding for a baby's development. But getting the milk into the baby can seem difficult, at least at first. So here is some advice.

A baby breastfeeds
A baby breastfeeds

Breastfeeding should begin right after a baby is born. There may be experts at a hospital or other health center who can show a new mother several different positions for breastfeeding.

A mother can get a painful back or neck if she leans over to feed her baby. Better to bring the baby to the breast instead. The baby's mouth should be open as wide as possible so that all of the nipple and area around it fit inside.

A baby should be fed often at the beginning, usually about every two hours. The Mayo Clinic in the United States also notes it is best to feed before a baby gets too hungry. Experts say that when a mother breastfeeds often, it helps increase her milk production.

Women can learn more about breastfeeding from books or support groups or the Internet. But some mothers face difficult decisions.

In developing countries, breastfeeding remains a leading way for babies to become infected with the AIDS virus. Yet formula mixed with dirty water can make a baby sick.

Earlier this week, at a conference in Boston, AIDS experts reported good news. They said a study of about two thousand babies showed that the drug nevirapine can cut the risk of HIV infection through breastfeeding.

Nevirapine is widely used in developing countries to prevent infected mothers from passing the virus to their babies during childbirth. The babies are currently given nevirapine just once, at birth.

But this is what the study found: Babies given nevirapine daily for six weeks had about half the rate of HIV infections as those given only a single dose. By six months of age, they still had almost one-third less risk of infection or death.

Scientists reported that six weeks of nevirapine appeared to be as safe as the single dose given under current guidelines. Teams from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland led the study with investigators from Ethiopia, India and Uganda.

In two thousand six the United Nations changed its policies on breastfeeding by HIV-infected mothers. The new advice supports breastfeeding for six months if mothers do not have money for basic foods or baby formula. The idea is that the benefits of breastfeeding are greater than the risks.

Experts say newborns who are not breastfed have five to seven times the risk of dying from pneumonia or diarrhea compared to breastfed babies.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus.

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