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Is it Safe to Breastfeed if I Have HPV?

If you have HPV, it is perfectly safe to breastfeed your baby without worrying about transmitting it. Research has shown that transmission of the virus through breast milk is highly unlikely. HPV is a very common sexually transmitted disease that 80% of women have been affected by at some point in their life. Many women may carry the virus without knowing it, so it is understandable why new moms may be concerned when it comes to breastfeeding. Even though there are no specific medical recommendations when it comes to breastfeeding with HPV, it is strongly believed that the benefits for the baby will far outweigh the unlikely risks.

Research on Breastfeeding and HPV

While there have been some findings that there may be a possible link between breastfeeding and HPV transmission, there is no conclusive evidence to back up these claims. Even studies that had shown a link between transmission of oral HPV and breastfeeding recently have been refuted, showing that there is no solid evidence that you can pass the virus to your baby through the breastfeeding process. More recent studies have been performed that now show a very low-to-no chance of passing HPV through breast milk.

It is also important to note that not all strains of HPV lead to cancer. Most of the research focuses on the specific “high-risk” HPV strains that possibly can lead to cancer and health problems down the road. A more recent study assessed 80 samples of breast milk provided by mothers who were infected with one of the “high-risk” HPV strains. The children of these mothers were tested for the presence of the virus in the genetic material surrounding their mouths and in their cervixes. Only 2.5% of the breast milk samples showed the presence of the virus, and none of the children who had been exposed to breast milk had contracted the virus. This study shows that only a small number of women with HPV will actually expose their children to the virus through breast milk, but the risk of the baby then contracting the virus is almost nonexistent.

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Why You Should Consider Breastfeeding Even if You Have HPV

While you may be nervous about breastfeeding when you have the HPV virus, it is important to focus on the many benefits that breastfeeding can provide for both you and your child. Breastfeeding can help:

  • Create a special bonding time and experience with your baby.
  • Improve your baby’s immune system and reduce the risk of contracting certain illnesses.
  • Shorten recovery time from childbirth.
  • Reduce your risk of certain diseases.
  • Lower the rates of chronic disease, obesity, and diabetes for both you and the baby.
  • Lower your risk of developing certain types of cancers, such as uterine, breast, and ovarian cancers.
  • Improve the development of your growing baby.
  • Lower your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
  • Provide your baby with the ideal nutrition.
  • Provide your baby with inexpensive, healthy nutrition.
  • Reduce the incidence of pneumonia, respiratory viruses, and colds.
  • Reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infections.
  • Lower your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

When May Breastfeeding Not Be Recommended?

While breastfeeding almost always outweighs any possible risks, there are some instances in which your healthcare provider may recommend abstaining. Typically, you may be advised by your healthcare provider not to breastfeed if you are HIV-positive or are taking certain medications that can pass to the baby and result in harm.

How Can You Avoid Contracting HPV?

At this time, there is no known cure for HPV, and oftentimes, people do not even realize they have the virus until they are tested for it. If you do have symptoms, there are treatments available to reduce them. In many cases, the virus will clear up on its own. Even though it may be difficult to know if you or your partner carry the virus without testing, there are ways to reduce your risk of contracting it.

Using condoms and dental dams during sexual intercourse or oral sex is a good way to reduce your risk of contracting the virus, but it is not complete protection. One of the best defenses against the “high-risk” strains of HPV that can lead to cancer is the new HPV vaccinations. Vaccination is now recommended for anyone under the age of 45 who is sexually active. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now also recommend that breastfeeding women under the age of 26 who have not yet been vaccinated should be offered the vaccine. The vaccine is completely safe during pregnancy, and the latent virus that is used in it will not pass to your breast milk, so there is no risk of your baby contracting it.

The earlier you are protected, the less chance there will be of contracting one of the HPV strains that can lead to cancer or other possible health problems. That is why it is now recommended that both boys and girls receive the HPV vaccination between the ages of 11 and 12 to protect them against the virus before possible exposure occurs.

You also want to make sure to have regular checkups and testing so that your healthcare provider can notice any cell changes that can lead to problems. This can allow you to receive treatment before those changes become a major health concern. If you are still unsure as to whether breastfeeding while having HPV is safe for your newborn, contact your healthcare provider. You can discuss the benefits of breastfeeding, and your healthcare provider can help answer any questions you may have about breastfeeding and HPV.

Further Reading

HPV and breastfeeding: What to know, Medical News Today, September 2018

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