The CDC lists numerous benefits to an infant’s health related to breastfeeding including stronger immune systems, a lower risk of some childhood cancers and a better development of an infant’s digestive system. The same way nutrients and vitamins are passed to a child through breastfeeding, some infections can be passed as well. If you are HIV positive, you may run the risk of spreading the virus to your new child. Additionally, if your baby comes into contact with a syphilis or herpes sore on your breast the child could potentially contract the infection.

If you are HIV positive, or worry that you may have been exposed to HIV, you should not breastfeed your baby. The CDC recommends alternative feeding methods in the United States such as formula. Although huge advances have been made in treating HIV with antiretroviral therapy, there is still no cure for the virus. If left untreated, HIV will slowly deteriorate the immune system, eventually leading to AIDS. People with AIDS are more likely to suffer life-threatening infections and certain types of cancer.

Syphilis and herpes can also pass through breastfeeding. If you have syphilis or herpes, you can breastfeed as long as your baby does not touch a sore. It is possible to spread syphilis or herpes to the breast, including the nipple and areola. If you have sores on your breast, it is recommended to pump your breast milk until the sores heal. Pumping will assist in maintaining the milk supply and prevent the breast from getting full and becoming painful. If parts of the breast pump used also touch a syphilis or herpes sore while pumping, the milk should be discarded and never fed to the baby.

The CDC recommends that all women who may be pregnant should test for STDs and HIV in order to protect the health of both the mother and child. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to an STD there are many options for treatment and testing. The best way to know the current status of your sexual health is to have STD testing performed.