HIV/AIDS and Pregnancy
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a virus that can cause problems with the body’s immune system. A weak immune
system lowers the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers over time. When
cells of the immune system have been weakened or destroyed by HIV, it causes AIDS. Not
everyone who has HIV develops AIDS. AIDS is when the HIV infection is in its most
Some people may get a flu-like illness within a month or two after infection with
HIV. Many people don't have any symptoms when they are first infected. But HIV/AIDS
is a serious infection that needs medical attention. It can turn into a severe illness
over time and cause life-threatening problems and early death.
The risk to your baby
If you have HIV, you can pass it to your baby during pregnancy, labor and delivery,
and breastfeeding. Nearly all children under the age of 13 with HIV were infected
by their mother. This happens in the womb, or as they passed through the birth canal
during labor. The virus can also be passed through breastmilk.
A pregnant woman with HIV has a 1 in 4 chance that her baby will get the virus. But
with early diagnosis and treatment with medicine, you can reduce this risk to 1 to
2 in 100.
Getting tested for HIV during pregnancy
All pregnant women should get tested for HIV. Get the tests as early as possible in
pregnancy, every time you are pregnant. Blood tests are the most common way to diagnose
HIV. Other tests can check for HIV in urine and saliva. When a test is positive, you’ll
have more tests to check the results of the first test. When a test is negative, but
it’s likely you were exposed to HIV, you’ll need follow-up testing in about 6 months.
Special care during pregnancy and childbirth
If you have HIV, you’ll need extra health care during pregnancy. This will include
counseling, testing, and treatment. You’ll need to work with a healthcare provider
who’s trained in high-risk pregnancy, infectious disease, or HIV.
You’ll need to take antiretroviral medicines during pregnancy and labor. And you’ll
need regular blood tests to check the amount of HIV in your body.
Vaginal birth can expose a baby to the HIV virus. Talk with your healthcare provider
about a cesarean (c-section) birth. A c-section helps reduce the risk of spreading
the virus to your baby.
Special care for your baby after birth
Babies of mothers with HIV are watched closely. Your baby will be given anti-HIV medicines
after birth. Your baby will have regular exams and blood tests. In most cases, a diagnosis
of HIV infection can be made by the time a baby is 3 months old.
Because HIV can be passed on through breastmilk, you shouldn’t breastfeed your baby.
Talk with your healthcare provider about formula feeding.
Living with HIV/AIDS
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. But new medicines can help people infected with the
virus to lead healthier lives. It’s important to work with a specialist who treats HIV/AIDS,
and to follow your treatment plan carefully.
When to call your healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider if you:
Protect your baby
To help lower the risk to your baby:
Get tested during pregnancy. All pregnant women should have an HIV test.
Get treated during pregnancy. Work with a specialist who can treat HIV during pregnancy. Take your medicine exactly
Don’t have a vaginal delivery. Talk with your healthcare provider about a c-section.
Don’t breastfeed. Talk with your healthcare provider about formula feeding.