BACKGROUND: Hepatitis B virus (HBV) exists in the breast milk of chronic hepatitis B (CHB) mothers. The authors use a meta-analytic technique to quantify the evidence of an association between breastfeeding and risk of CHB infection among the infants vaccinated against HBV.
METHODS: Literature search is performed up to 2010 on the relationship between infantile CHB infection within one-year follow up after immunization with the third-dose hepatitis B vaccine and breastfeeding. Two reviewers independently extract the data and evaluate the methodological quality. A random-effects model is employed to systematically combine the results of all included studies.
RESULTS: Based on data from 32 studies, 4.32% (244/5650) of infants born of CHB mothers develop CHB infection. The difference in risk of the infection between breastfed and formula-fed infants (RD) is -0.8%, (95% confidence interval [CI]: -1.6%, 0.1%). Analysis of the data from 16 of the studies finds that RD for mothers who are positive for the HBeAg and/or the HBV DNA, 0.7% (95%CI: -2.0%, 3.5%), is similar to that for those who are negative for these infectivity markers, -0.5% (95%CI: -1.7%, 0.6%).
CONCLUSIONS: Breast milk is infectious; yet, breastfeeding, even by mothers with high infectivity, is not associated with demonstrable risk of infantile CHB infection, provided that the infants have been vaccinated against HBV at birth.