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 advanced stages.
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. If not treated, 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 if your infection is
not under complete control. 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.
An untreated pregnant woman with
HIV has a 1 in 4 chance that her baby will get the virus. But with early diagnosis
and treatment with antiretroviral medicines, you can reduce this risk.
Experts advise that almost all people with HIV be treated for the
infection. If you have HIV and are planning to become pregnant, get treated for your HIV
as soon as possible. Take your medicines every day as directed. Also make sure your
viral load is "undetectable" before and throughout pregnancy.
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 saliva. But these are generally not as accurate as blood tests. 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 a
Special care during pregnancy and childbirth
If you have HIV, you’ll need extra
healthcare during pregnancy. This will include antiretroviral medicines, possibly
vaccines, and other preventive treatments. You’ll need to work with a healthcare
provider who’s trained in high-risk pregnancy, infectious disease, or HIV.
You’ll need regular blood tests to
check the amount of HIV in your body. Your HIV should be completely controlled, or
"undetectable." This will help minimize the risk of your baby picking up HIV.
Vaginal birth can expose a baby to
the HIV virus, particularly if your HIV is detectable. If that is the case, talk with
your healthcare provider about whether you should have a C-section (cesarean) birth. A
C-section helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus to your baby if your virus is not
completely under control with medicines.
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
antiretroviral medicines can help people infected with the virus to lead healthier,
longer, and often normal 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 before and during
pregnancy. Work with a specialist who can treat HIV during pregnancy. Take
your medicine exactly as instructed.
Don’t breastfeed. Talk with
your healthcare provider about formula feeding.